GATINEAU, QUE.—The decision by TransCanada to mothball its proposed Energy East pipeline some days ago risks becoming flotsam in the all-consuming whirl of daily news—from Harvey Weinstein, to Donald Trump’s threats to dump NAFTA, to second-hand Australian jets. But we shouldn’t let the issue fade without hacking away the false claims and apocalyptic predictions surrounding the massive, now doomed, infrastructure project.
1. False claim No. 1: the cancellation is entirely Justin Trudeau’s fault.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The argument would have more salience if Trudeau hadn’t—as he points out—approved two major energy pipelines in his two years in office, compared to zero for the Harper government. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
This interpretation has been most stridently embraced, unsurprisingly, by Andrew Scheer’s federal Conservatives and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall. They accuse Trudeau, in so many words, of being hostile to Western Canada and the oil industry, and draw lazy comparisons to his father’s National Energy Policy of the 1980s (different world, different ambitions).
The argument would have more salience if Trudeau hadn’t—as he points out—approved two major energy pipelines in his two years in office, compared to zero for the Harper government. It also runs counter to the prime minister’s, and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr’s, frequently stated enthusiasm for getting Alberta’s oil to China and beyond—in an environmentally responsible way, of course, as if there was an environmentally responsible way to crank up, or extend, production in the oilsands.
That said, many Liberals are probably relieved that Energy East didn’t proceed, given the opposition it aroused in Quebec where the party holds 40 seats. But to suggest they undermined the project by imposing more rigorous emissions requirements, at the last minute, disregards the awesome fury of Montreal mayor Denis Coderre and many other municipal leaders. Not to mention TransCanada’s arrogance when it first tried to sell the project to a skeptical province. (Providing English-only documents is never a good idea.) Energy East was never going to be accepted by Quebecers.
2. TransCanada and its champions have also suggested those extra conditions, imposed by the National Energy Board—allegedly acting as puppets, for anti-oil Trudeau—sabotaged the project as much, if not more, than market conditions.
No, the NEB was finally doing what it is supposed to be doing: acting in the Canadian interest, instead of running interference for the oil industry, which has long been its role. It has never once turned down a major pipeline/fossil fuel project. It attaches conditions, but its main concern has been protecting the industry from mounting protests from environmentalists, Indigenous people and local politicians.
That started to change under Trudeau’s watch, with the appointment of new board members with new responsibilities, including assessing the broader environmental consequences of major projects—not just emissions resulting from construction, but emissions generated by future consumption of all that oil.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer accuses Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in so many words, of being hostile to Western Canada and the oil industry, and draws lazy comparisons to his father’s National Energy Policy of the 1980s (different world, different ambitions). The Hill Times file photograph
Rising emissions are the inescapable consequence of burning oil—a fact TransCanada would rather not focus on. And, if Canada is remotely serious about meeting its Paris targets, we have to start measuring more rigorously, and curtailing the growth, of emissions. As to TransCanada’s complaint that other recent projects have not been subjected to the same demanding standard, the unintended question is—why not? How much more greenhouse gas will the controversial Kinder Morgan project, intended to transport Alberta bitumen to China via Vancouver harbour, add to global totals?
3. The claim that TransCanada was the victim of an industry-hating, Quebec-dominated government downplays the reality that this was a doomed business proposition almost from the start.