Every energy sector expert agrees that the Energy East project was abandoned for essentially economic reasons. The decline in oil prices, the slowdown in the growth of oilsands production and the approval of two other pipeline projects (Trans Mountain and Keystone XL) undermined the business case for Energy East.
If not for that, TransCanada would have continued pushing forward, never mind the obstacles put in its way by politicians and environmentalists, just as it did with the other projects.
Obviously, there can be no doubt that the project’s weak social licence slowed it down. This resistance from communities was not a bad thing in itself.
Indeed, TransCanada arrived in Quebec as if it owned the place, paying little heed to the concerns and fears of a population that was unfamiliar with the oil industry’s methods. A public outcry was required for the Alberta company to realize that its pipeline would not proceed like a hot knife through butter and to go back to the drawing board.
That said, I would have liked to have seen Quebec’s elected officials express their reservations about the project without ignoring its importance to the economy of Western Canada, an economy the province benefits from.
The politicians’ overwhelming rejection of the project had a whiff of hypocrisy about it, particularly when it came from the leaders of major cities filled with cars.
For example, the mayor of Montreal, Denis Coderre, once a great defender of Canadian unity, was regrettably parochial when he could have easily been the champion of a middle ground between environmental protection and economic development, between his short-term political interests and the economic needs of the country as a whole.
Competing with the mayor in this regard, the premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, constantly blamed Quebec for Energy East’s troubles. In so doing, Wall conveniently forgot the fact that the Northern Gateway pipeline was dead and the Trans Mountain project is threatened by strong opposition from provincial, municipal and Indigenous leaders in Western Canada. The lack of solidarity with the oil-producing provinces does not originate in Quebec alone.
Owing to the vastness of its geography, Canada will always depend substantially on its natural resources for prosperity. Oil and gas will be part of the equation for decades to come.
However, given the urgent fight against climate change, these resources face unique challenges. That is why, as former Alberta energy minister Ken Hughes suggested last week, it’s time for Canadians to have a frank discussion about the future of these fossil fuels.
This conversation could take the shape of a royal commission of inquiry. It should focus on ways of developing these natural resources that benefit the country’s economy while complying with strict environmental regulations and rules that respect the rights of Aboriginal peoples.
National leadership is required for such a discussion to take place, and this responsibility lies first and foremost with our federal representatives. But they cannot do it alone: Indigenous, provincial and municipal leaders must also think in national terms. That means they must engage in this conversation with the interests of the entire country in mind, not just the interests of their community. Otherwise, parochialism will prevail.
With each major project abandoned, a region and a few cities will declare victory. But Canada will have lost.
Senator André Pratte represents De Salaberry, Quebec. He is a member of the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, the Senate Committee on National Finance and the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
This article appeared in the October 11, 2017 edition of The Toronto Star.