You can argue both sides of the argument but ultimately the project needs to be assessed as part of the bigger picture and what value it delivers to the entire country.
Alberta wants to triple its oil sands production but a number of pipeline projects designed to facilitate the dream are stalled. The Energy East project, which would transport 1.1 million barrels a day to eastern Canada and to export markets beyond, has been touted as the most ambitious and doable.
Opposition is surging against the project. In Quebec in October two thousand people marched against Energy East, terrorized by the thought of oil terminals on the St. Lawrence, which would threaten a home base for the Beluga whale.
“The weekend showed that it’s obvious that the project goes against the common good and all principles of sustainable development,” community newspaper editor Yvan Roy said, as quoted by the Montreal Gazette.
Environmentalists say they are encouraged by the public awakening. “There is something happening out there,” John Bennett, executive director of Sierra Club Canada told me, noting how opposition has been rising at the grassroots level.
Keith Stewart, a campaigner at Greenpeace Canada, believes environmental activism is growing across the country, thanks in part to the Harper government’s rewrite of environmental laws to a point where people don’t believe they have a voice. They are rebelling at the idea that government has become an industry cheerleader rather than its referee. “I think people have never been more mobilized than they are today,” Stewart said in an interview.
But perhaps some of the spinoff benefits are being overlooked, as argued by Konrad Yakabuski in a recent column for the Globe, who maintained that Quebec was not seeing the bigger picture.
Quebec and eastern Canada import some 600,000 barrels a day of oil and lately much of it is coming from the United States. But it’s arriving by train and that has drawbacks, with the horrific explosion at Lac-Megantic a major case in point.
So if we could swap the imported oil for Alberta bitumen more money would stay in Canada and help Alberta’s industry grow. Alberta, to sustain its boom, does buy from outside its borders, including from Quebec.
“Quebec-based suppliers already sell everything from fabricated metal products to sophisticated plastics to companies active in the oil sands,” wrote Yakabuski. “Montreal-based CGI does big business as an IT services provider to oil-sands players, creating wealth and jobs in Quebec. Energy East would only deepen this interprovincial business relationship.”
The bigger picture
But to concentrate on economic gains from one sector is still too narrow of a focus. Whenever pro oil types talk about jobs and prosperity from fossil fuels they tend to leave out the impact on the environment in which we live — as if it’s somehow divorced from the rest of the economy. A lot of countries are waking up to the idea that we can’t keep building Big Oil’s accident prone infrastructure and not worry about bigger issues such as environmental degradation and climate change.
A new group called Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, backed by an impressive array of economists and former pols such as Preston Manning, has been created to drive this very point home.
“We can no longer afford to silo our economic and environmental agendas,” the group said in its maiden report. “The sustained well-being of Canadians requires new policies that align our aspirations for a thriving economy and a clean environment. Current evidence suggests that we can achieve this by using ecofiscal policies.”
Canada’s fiscal system—taxes, subsidies, and spending policies – “is working against our well-being by holding back innovation and productivity while inadvertently promoting greenhouse gas emissions and pollution of our land, air, and water.”
Quoting the OECD, they say every dollar invested in a low-carbon electricity sector “results in more than four dollars saved by future generations.”
The Energy East project would add an additional 32 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year to the atmosphere, or about the same as plunking seven million more cars down on Canadian roads, according to a February report from the Pembina Institute.
Energy East, should it be built, is just another great enabler for Alberta’s fossil dreams, which is not the direction we need now. True nation building will come from transitioning to a low carbon economy, not doubling down on fuels that many in Canada and around the world know we need to move away from.