Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Next Battle

In the 19th century, we fought over religion. In the 20th century, we fought over language. And, as the National Energy Board considers Trans Canada's application for the Energy East pipeline, it's becoming clear that, in the 21st century, pipelines could divide the nation. Chantal Hebert writes:

As of this week and until the end of the year, the National Energy Board is hearing from proponents and opponents of TransCanada’s plan to link Alberta’s oil sands to the Atlantic coast via a 4,600-km pipeline.

From New Brunswick the panel will be moving on to Quebec, Ontario and points west over the next four months.

But the process is only a warm-up act for an expanding national debate that could rival for its length but also its divisiveness the constitutional wars of the early 1990s. Reconciling the economic aspirations of some regions with the concerns for their ecosystems of many of the others will not come easily.

Consider how the future of several governments hinges on pipelines:

At the top of the list is British Columbia premier Christy Clark. She will take her ruling Liberal party to the polls in about nine months. Between now and then, the federal cabinet is scheduled to decide whether to give the green light to Kinder Morgan’s plan to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline.

The project has elicited stiff municipal opposition in the Greater Vancouver area as well as within the aboriginal community. Although her government came down against the project over the course of the NEB hearings, Clark has kept her options open — possibly in the hope of negotiating trade-offs that could bolster her party’s case on the hustings. If the federal government gives Trans Mountain the nod later this year, the issue stands to make the B.C. election the must-watch event of the 2017 political season.

Few would be following a pipeline-driven B.C. debate more closely than Quebec’s Philippe Couillard. He is to next face voters around the time the NEB is expected to make its recommendation to the federal cabinet on Energy East in 2018. Couillard might not have become premier if the last Quebec election had not turned into a referendum on the Parti Québécois’ sovereignty agenda. He might not fare as well in a plebiscite-style vote on a controversial pipeline development.

In Alberta, the province’s first NDP premier has staked her pro-pipeline agenda on a more rigorous climate change policy. Rachel Notley is betting it will make her provincial counterparts more amenable to facilitating the transport of Western Canada’s oil to tidewater. If only to counter opposition charges that the NDP is not economically competent, she needs a win on the pipeline front. 

And, of course, there's Justin Trudeau's government:

It has been sitting on a fence whose pickets can only become more uncomfortable over time. As prime minister, Trudeau has nodded in the direction of more pipelines on a number of occasions. But little could do more to diminish his appeal to the left-leaning voters who have abandoned the NDP for the Liberals including many of the Quebec and B.C. voters who have been key to his majority victory than forcing a pipeline through either province.  

Meech Lake and Charlottetown have faded into history. But the next battle is about to begin.



Steve said...

IDK about pipelines. Vote no matter.

Lorne said...

It is time for real leadership on this issue, Owen. I fear that Mr. Trudeau, despite his wild popularity, is not up to the task.

Owen Gray said...

You might get the impression that the deck is loaded, Steve. But we'll see.

Owen Gray said...

If politicians are paying attention, Lorne, they'll know that the ground is shifting on this issue. Suncor wants to keep some of its bitumen in the ground. I wonder if Justin understands what's happening.

Dana said...

I think Justin understands what drives his popularity and cares little about anything else.

Owen Gray said...

If that's the case, Dana, the planet is in trouble.

Dana said...

The planet is in more trouble than Justin Trudeau can remedy. The planet is in trouble because there are conscious, intelligent, thumbed ,and therefore technological, creatures living on it and far, far too many of them at that.

Every day brings more confirmation that conscious, intelligent, thumbed ,and therefore technological, creatures are a destructive force and an evolutionary dead end.

Owen Gray said...

Intelligent people are capable of gargantuan stupidity, Dana. Intelligence alone won't save the planet.

Dana said...

In point of fact, human intelligence is doing a fine job of destroying life on the planet. The planet itself, the third rock from Sol, is unaffected.

Owen Gray said...

It's an old story, Dana. It's the same vainglory that drove Dr. Frankenstein.

The Mound of Sound said...

The dynamic involved in the pipeline war puts Justin on the spot. He has been playing both sides but unconvincingly. One must go under the bus.

Trudeau's problems will be compounded by the mini-summit in Geneva later this month with the climate science community unveils what governments must do if mankind is to have much hope of surviving this century. They're calling for an end to coal fired electricity and internal combustion power within 15-years. If we don't, they warn, we're done.

In the context of change of this magnitude, 15-years is a heartbeat. It would entail a mass mobilization of resources and effort of the sort only government can muster and, even then, collectively. It demands a clear resolution to begin decarbonizing our economies and our societies.

Whatever decision our political caste takes will trigger some upheaval. However, if the political consensus follows the science, it spells an abrupt end for high-cost/high-carbon fossil energy, especially coal and bitumen. Compounding bitumen's peril is the OECD agreement to end all fossil fuel subsidies by 2025. The future is bleak for dirty oil. Trudeau would take a big political risk if he chooses to saddle this dying horse.

Trudeau's other option is to throw in with Alberta and the fossil fuelers and spark the battle even Harper chose to avoid. There is enough of a core of British Columbians opposed to these pipelines that a direct confrontation could spark a much broader opposition. Would Junior risk filling Harper's new jail cells with lifelong law-abiding grey hairs? Will he overwhelm our First Nations who stand in his path?

There is a compromise option. He could demand that Alberta fully refine its bitumen on site. It is all the stuff that is ultimately refined out of bitumen to make it consumable that poses the greatest hazard to our coast. Alberta could have the economic activity and the jobs associated with that refining. It appears to be a win-win solution. Only it's not. Why not? Because the costs of refining that sludge in Alberta would expose how economically unviable bitumen truly is. The other factor is the emissions problem Alberta would add from the refining process. This option is simply not on the table as far as Ottawa, Alberta and the Calgary Petroleum Club are concerned and that speaks volumes.

For Justin it comes down to the one quality he lacks, courage. He's shown a clear preference for expedience over all else. That won't save him from a fight this time.

Owen Gray said...

He can't sit on the fence forever, Mound. He faces a crisis that will either make him or break him.

Steve said...

The answer it seems was with the regretfully short lived Clark administration. Hydrogen. Canada could be a hydrogen superpower.

Owen Gray said...

But, as always, Steve, cost is a factor. Hydrogen can be costly to produce.

Steve said...

Owen cost is all imaginary. If it is important enough it costs nothing. For example how is Isreali even close to being economicly viable?

Owen Gray said...

Lots of people would argue that it's simply too expensive, Steve.

Anonymous said...

As of this week and until the end of the year, the National Energy Board is hearing from proponents and opponents of TransCanada’s plan to link Alberta’s oil sands to the Atlantic coast via a 4,600-km pipeline.

Smokescreen; never happen.
Way too many hurdles.
It makes going West quite attractive; lesser of two evils!
Developers pull this shit all of the time.


Owen Gray said...

To date, Justin hasn't changed the composition of the NEB. You have a right to be skeptical, TB.