Last week, Montreal mayor Denis Coderre stood with scores of other municipal politicians demanding that the Energy East pipeline project be stopped in its tracks. Like a medieval petty lord demanding a toll for transporting goods across his territory, Coderre has claimed that his municipality can now override federal jurisdiction in blocking national infrastructure under the guise of ‘social license’.
If Coderre’s opposition to the pipeline had anything to do with protecting the St. Lawrence River, he wouldn’t have dumped 8 billion litres of untreated sewage into it just a few months ago. It is quite simply about petty provincialism and extortion.
This is not how a first world country works. Before confederation, a lumber producer in Ontario (Upper Canada) would face myriad trade barriers in getting his products even to Nova Scotia. The colonial governments of Upper and Lower Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick came together to found our confederation largely for the purposes of free trade; that is, that Canadian provinces could move products across each others borders without impediment.
Under our constitution, the provinces are invested with significant independence over areas of their own jurisdiction, but inter-provincial trade falls clearly under the federal government’s powers.
In 2015, politicians in British Columbia – and especially Quebec – are attempting to rewrite this important part of the constitution not through formal amendment, but extortion.
Since just 2007, Quebec has received $73.9 billion in Equalization transfer payments, paid for in large part by Alberta taxpayers and our energy industry.
The myopic demands of Coderre make plain that he is happy to accept Alberta’s oil money, but not Alberta’s oil.
Canada imports $26 billion worth of oil from foreign producers every year, most of it from cruel dictatorships with little to no environmental standards whatsoever.
Energy East would move unprocessed oil from Alberta – which lacks further refining capacity – to Quebec and New Brunswick, which have excess refining capacity. This would allow Eastern Canada to buy its oil right here at home, provide badly needed jobs in Atlantic Canada, and provide desperately needed access to international markets for Western Canada.
This is a nation-building project on par with the Canadian Pacific Railway and the TransCanada Highway. The biggest difference is that it won’t cost a penny of taxpayers’ money.
The proposed pipeline largely exists already, and merely requires upgrading to convert it from gas to oil. That upgrading would make the pipeline even safer than it already is as it passes through Montreal.
Alberta has world-leading environmental standards that are just not recognized by Hollywood activists and hard-left political parties at home. Alberta’s environmental problem has been one mostly of image, not substance.
Piling onto an energy industry already battered by low global oil prices and an unnecessary royalty review, Alberta’s NDP imposed a massive new $3 billion a year carbon tax, with the promise that it would buy Alberta ‘social license’ for pipelines.
When Ontario’s auto industry’s last ran into trouble, the federal government bailed them out to the tune of $3.5 billion. With Quebec’s Bombardier in trouble, the provincial government recently bailed it out with $1 billion, and is demanding another $1 billion from the federal government.
Alberta does not want or need bailouts. Alberta does need increased transfer payments or to collect Equalization. What we need are partners. Partners that will help create jobs and grow the economy for all Canadians.
Good Canadians want each other to succeed and we don’t define our success relative to the failure of others. We should continue to be helpful, contributing members of the Canadian family, but if leaders in some parts of our country act as Coderre has done, then we must stand up for ourselves.
It is the federal government’s constitutional responsibility to ensure that national infrastructure projects – like pipelines – are allowed to be built if the National Energy Board agrees that they meet the criteria laid out in legislation.
Dialogue and cooperation is the best path forward, but Alberta must stop giving credence to the petty lords of confederation who subvert the constitution that this country was built on.