At first glance, pipelines to get Alberta’s oil to market seem stalled. Many people across Canada don’t think the advantages of pipelines are worth the environmental risks they’re worried about.
As I’ve pointed out before, Stephen Harper deserves a lot of the blame for opposition to pipelines becoming as strong as it has. Many of his actions suggested that he didn’t care about peoples’ concerns about pipelines, and that he would force pipelines on people whether they wanted them or not. That only gave Alberta’s critics more ammunition, and didn’t make people outside Alberta more likely to support pipeline construction.
There are signs, however, that things are starting to change.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre initially came out against Energy East. However, after meeting with Justin Trudeau, he cooled his rhetoric, saying that the pipeline needed the “right balance” between growth and development. He said that Enbridge needs to “do its homework” on its proposal, and then “we would see”. He is now repeating what Preston Manning has been saying for years about the need to sustainably develop oil resources.
More significantly, Quebec City Mayor Regis Lebeaume supports the pipeline and a recent poll showed that Quebecers overwhelmingly prefer Western Canadian oil to foreign oil. 59% of Quebecers, or five times as many, preferred Western Canadian Oil compared to the 13% of Quebecers who support the use of oil from all foreign sources combined. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, despite her concerns over emissions, also supports the pipeline.
Why is this change in opinion happening?
As Wynne noted, her concerns are starting to be addressed. She’s not the only one who thinks so – the leaders of Alberta energy companies, as well as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, have expressed their support for the Notley government’s carbon pricing plan. Carbon pricing isn’t just supported by the left, -conservative advocates and economists like Preston Manning and Jack Mintz support it too.
Some people might say that this won’t change the minds of devoted pipeline opponents. Even if it doesn’t, actions like carbon pricing show that Alberta is serious about developing oil resources responsibly, and weaken the arguments of critics by showing just how wrong they are.
Contrary to the way Alberta is being depicted by some critics as wanting to pillage the environment and trample Indigenous rights, but we can and should show how Indigenous peoples and companies themselves are participating in the oil and gas industry. We can show how oil companies actively support recognizing the rights of Indigenous peoples, and sponsor Indigenous cultural initiatives. Similarly, we can use actions such as carbon pricing and land reclamation requirements to show how we are trying to reduce the impact of development on the environment. Along with equalization, we should also remind people how people from other parts of Canada are moving to Alberta to work in the oil industry and have sent large amounts of money home. Additionally oilsands tax revenues are a critical source of funding for Canadian social programs.
Regarding Quebec’s recent injunction against Energy East, the pipeline comes under federal jurisdiction. One would think that Quebec, with its emphasis on provincial jurisdiction, could sympathize with this. We might also ask about other economic projects proceeding without environmental hearings, such as the cement plant in the Gaspé region being given legislation to allow it to proceed without an environmental hearing.
More positively, we could also point out that Quebec’s own environmental concerns are probably going to be addressed in the National Energy Board (NEB) hearing. Coderre and Lebeaume have both noted that this is their main sticking point – and it’s just as likely that the NEB will require TransCanada to revise its proposal to address the concerns, particularly with the extra regulatory steps imposed by the Justin Trudeau government.
We don’t have to choose between being loud and angry, or quiet and diplomatic-who says we can’t be both loud and diplomatic?
That might just be the key to having pipelines built to benefit not just Alberta, but all of Canada.
An earlier version of this article was originally published in the St. Albert Gazette on February 27, 2016.