Surprise: Energy east requires a political solution

November 28, 2014

On November 18, 2014 the environment minister of Québec wrote to TransCanada Pipeline listing seven conditions for approving the Energy East Pipeline to Cacouna, Québec.

On November 21, 2014 the Office of the Premier of Ontario, Kathlyn Wynne issued a press release confirming that Ontario and Quebec had agreed on joint principles for pipeline projects. Since then the Premier of New Brunswick has characterized the principles as “very, very reasonable” and “achievable”.  The Premier of Saskatchewan on the other hand has vented his frustration at “goal posts continuously changing.”  

These seven principles are repeated verbatim below:

  1. Compliance with the highest available technical standards for public safety and environmental protection;
  2. Have world leading contingency planning and emergency response programs;
  3. Proponents and governments consult local communities and fulfil their duty to consult with Aboriginal communities;
  4. Take into account the contribution to greenhouse gas emissions;
  5. Provide demonstrable economic benefits and opportunities to the people of Ontario and Québec, in particular in the areas of job creation over both the short and long term;
  6. Ensure that economic and environmental risks and responsibilities, including remediation, should be borne exclusively by the pipeline companies in the event of a leak or spill on ground or water, and provide financial assurance demonstrating their capacity to respond to leaks and spills;
  7. Interests of natural gas consumers must be taken into account.

The above list echoes the one issued by Québec but there are a few material differences and, generally speaking, the tone of the joint principles is softer.

On November 21, 2014 a number of well-known environmental groups, including the corporate funded and very mainstream World Wildlife Fund, released the results of an opinion poll showing a stunning 87% of Quebecers were of the view that Quebec must have the right to approve or deny the Energy East Pipeline and that 71% of Québecers are against using Cacouna as an oil terminal. In other words, it is an understatement to say that Cacouna might not meet Quebec’s social acceptability criteria.

While some have made unhelpful noises about the National Energy Board’s jurisdiction and the division of powers under Canada’s constitution, the most constructive response has been that of Jim Prentice, the Premier of Alberta, who has said that he will visit with the Premiers of Ontario and Québec in early December to better understand their positions and concerns, particularly as to greenhouse gases. It is important to remember that, in the context of the Keystone XL pipeline, the US State Department did (to some extent) take into account green house gases. In other words, while this may be a first in Canada, it is not a first in North America and the issue is not be the pipeline killer that some imagine it to be.

In dealing with Québec, Jim Prentice is probably the best placed to move things along in a positive manner. Firstly, he realizes that the matter must be resolved in the political sphere and his response to Québec to date has been measured. Secondly, and most importantly, his understanding of the importance of public perception in outside markets is similar to Quebec’s view and he has repeatedly stated that Alberta must become an environmental leader. Yes, he did serve as Canada’s environment minister from 2008 to 2010 but his tenure ended before the more controversial environmental and scientific policy changes at the Federal level. 

What Quebec wants is a partner that acknowledges that it must do better on the environment and agrees to take concrete and measurable steps over time to make it so.

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