Pipelines could shape up to be a defining issue in the NDP leadership race, as the party’s members and provincial wings have clashing views on resource development and the construction of new oil pipelines.
During the last election, federal leader Tom Mulcair (Outremont, Que.) didn’t commit to being either for or against the Energy East pipeline. Instead, he was pushing for more rigorous environmental reviews, and further involvement of First Nations in the decision-making process.
Since then, different parts of the party have been in different positions. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, for instance, has stood by the federal Liberal government’s approval of projects such as the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline twinning.
But others within the party, including the British Columbia NDP and MPs representing B.C. ridings, have staunchly opposed the project. (It is important to note that the NDP’s federal and provincial factions all fall under the same party. In other parties, they have separate provincial and federal parties.)
So far, the party has agreed to disagree on pipeline projects. But candidate Peter Julian (New Westminster-Burnaby, B.C.) says it’s time for the NDP “to have that debate” because the party’s position is “not unanimous at all.”
Candidate Niki Ashton (Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, Man.) said the “NDP is at a crossroads,” but that pipelines aren’t the only key issue the NDP needs to address, citing racial inequalities and other issues. She said the media is framing pipelines as a defining issue for the party, but she disagrees.
But, Mr. Julian thinks over the next eight months, pipelines will be a critical matter for the NDP, and that the future leader’s stance on resource development, including pipelines, will affect the NDP’s chances in the next federal election.
“It seems to me that this is the fundamental debate and will be one of the fundamental debates of the 2019 election,” he said.
The Hill Times asked each campaign in the race so far their position on pipelines and the future of resource development in Canada.
Mr. Julian said it is “very clear” to him that the NDP must oppose pipelines and work towards transitioning to clean energy.
Mr. Julian says the government should refine and upgrade raw bitumen from the oilsands in Canada, instead of exporting it. The risk of spilling the diluted bitumen the pipelines carry was not worth the reward, he said.
“As part of a just transition strategy, we need to make sure we are upgrading and refining in Canada, while we’re making the shift to clean energy. All [Justin Trudeau] is proposing is raw bitumen exports for the next 50 years,” Mr. Julian said.
He said he has “knocked on a lot of doors” in Saskatchewan and Alberta, two oil-producing provinces that have a strong interest in building pipelines. He said people respond when he talks about value-added development and transition to clean energy.
“I do not expect the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers to be in agreement,” he said, “but I think this debate has to happen. The NDP is the only place this debate can happen.”
Mr. Julian said building refineries and using the resulting product in Canada would create more jobs than pipeline construction ever would, and it would decrease Canada’s dependency on oil imports. It would also eliminate the need for pipelines, he said.
Guy Caron (Rimouski Neigette-Témiscouata-Les Basques, Que.) said he is opposed to Energy East, TransCanada’s proposed 4,500-kilometre pipeline that would transport 1.1 million barrels of oil per day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to the refineries of Eastern Canada and a marine terminal in New Brunswick. Part of the route would run through his riding.
He thinks Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which runs from Alberta to B.C., approved by the Liberal government with conditions last year, is an example of the Liberal government “steamrolling over the concerns of many local communities.”
While he is opposed to those two projects specifically, Mr. Caron does not say he is opposed to pipelines in principle. He does say he thinks a “complete overhaul of our environmental assessment process” is necessary to ensure each project has economic, environmental, and social benefits. And, “any new framework must include provincial/territorial, First Nations, and community input, and must contribute to the fight against climate change,” he said.
In terms of the NDP grappling with its stance on pipelines, Mr. Caron said, “the issues of energy and environment will always be a part of our political discourse, offering a diversity of views—just as within the NDP.” He said he “respects” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s “passionate fight for workers in her province.”
But in the long term, Mr. Caron shares his colleagues’ vision of transitioning to renewable energy.
Mr. Caron says the NDP can’t leave out those who work in the oil industry now and are struggling with recent job losses and downturn in the sector. “Our plan will help them take their place in the economy of the future.”
Ms. Ashton, who just announced her candidacy for the leadership on Tuesday, said she is against pipeline projects that the Liberal government has approved, including the Kinder Morgan project. She is also against Energy East and Keystone XL. She wants to “move Canada to a sustainable carbon-free economy.”
“We have a prime minister who talked a good talk on working with indigenous peoples, talked a good talk on the environment, and then since he’s been in power, he’s approved pipelines that certainly respect neither of those fundamental parts and not indigenous peoples,” she said in an interview with The Hill Times.
Ms. Ashton said none of the pipeline projects that have gained approval from the federal government to date would go through if the approval process was based on the principles she envisions, including indigenous rights, environmental regulations, and Canada’s climate change commitments.
On whether or not she would be worried about her electability in the prairie provinces by opposing pipeline projects, she said she knows “the importance of the resource-based economy,” as she is from a mining town in the prairies herself.
But, she said “it’s not clear to me that [pipelines are] the way to create good jobs and to address the issues we’re facing.”
She said Westerners are facing similar challenges to the rest of the country, in that there is simply a lack of diversified employment.
Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay, Ont.), from historically mining-dependent northern Ontario, appears to be the most pipeline-friendly candidate in the race thus far.
In keeping with themes seen in his opponents’ platforms, on his website, his environment platform indicates he wants to “make sure developments, from dams to pipelines, have the consent of the people they will impact.” Mr. Angus points out the importance of that consent for projects on indigenous land.
When he announced his bid for the leadership at the end of last month, Mr. Angus, like many of his colleagues, indicated he wants Canada to move away from fossil fuels. But, as the Toronto Star reported, “he stopped short of calling for a moratorium on pipeline construction.”
“We don’t throw a generation of workers under the bus to make a political point,” he said.
Mr. Angus was unavailable for comment to The Hill Times due to a busy schedule, and his campaign did not respond to written questions by deadline.