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Comment: Energy East is dead — here’s the real reason why

Were it not the failings of the National Energy Board and the newly proposed climate test, it would have been the protection of drinking water, Indigenous rights and community opposition that killed Energy East.

Were it not the failings of the National Energy Board and the newly proposed climate test, it would have been the protection of drinking water, Indigenous rights and community opposition that killed Energy East. But you’d never know this from the coverage of TransCanada’s cancellation of the largest oilsands pipeline proposed to date.

As the tsunami of responses begins to recede, it’s time to tell the truth about the nation-building, Quebec-blaming myths Energy East’s death is perpetuating.

Energy East was never about getting Canadian oil to Canadians, nor was it about reducing imports of so-called foreign oil. Even if the three refineries along the pipeline route had used only crude from Energy East, a whopping 428,000 barrels per day was still for export. But this wouldn’t have happened. Quebec refineries have access to cheaper Canadian and U.S. oil sources, meaning more like 90 per cent of Energy East’s 1.1 million barrel per day pipeline was for export.

Meanwhile, Ian Whitcomb, president of Irving Oil, admitted to the Financial Post’s editorial board that Energy East would not stop the company from importing oil from Saudi Arabia.

A real conversation about energy security would mean talking about redirecting Newfoundland oil exports to Atlantic Canada. It would mean Prime Minister Justin Trudeau renegotiating the restrictive energy provisions of NAFTA that lock Canada into energy exports to the U.S.

Instead of discussing the very real risks identified in Energy East for Quebec, pundits rehashed tired old clichés bashing Quebec. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall went so far as to question Saskatchewan’s role in the federal system because of equalization payments.

Transfer payments were put in place to help assure comparable levels of education, health care and welfare in all provinces. It is absurd to think that those who contribute more get to buy political influence (particularly coming from a recently have-not province). This also overlooks the very real impacts the rising Canadian dollar, driven in part by the Western Canadian energy sector, had on manufacturing jobs in Quebec and Ontario.

TransCanada dug its own grave in Quebec.

It proposed an export port in protected beluga-inhabited waters. The pipeline crossed key water sources supplying more than three million residents’ drinking water. A spill of diluted bitumen, known to sink in water, would have had devastating consequences, a point consistently raised in public hearings held in Montreal that TransCanada refused to join. The corporation offered very few temporary jobs while threatening to undermine provincial climate action.

In a pivotal misstep, TransCanada hired Jean Charest, a former Quebec premier, as a project lobbyist. The National Observer exposed a private meeting between the NEB and TransCanada, which was later found to be a conflict of interest, effectively grinding the pipeline’s review to a halt.

The partisan fireworks witnessed last week also tried to pin Energy East’s death on the federal Liberals. But let’s remember this is a government that continues to insist new oilsands pipelines such as Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion and TransCanada’s Keystone XL are compatible with doing our fair share to address climate change.

It also shouldn’t be assumed these two controversial projects will proceed. They faced opposition as strong as the resistance to Energy East, based on the assertion of Indigenous rights, community resistance, and the protection of our water and climate.

We should be talking about the more than 100,000 messages the NEB received in support of a pipeline climate test, more than 2,000 applications to intervene citing a climate test and pressure from countless actions exposing the 1.1 million barrel-per-day pipeline’s climate impact. TransCanada first suggested it would drop Energy East the day after the NEB announced it would include a climate test in the review of Energy East.

While we can’t overlook the impact of volatile oil prices on undermining the economic case for Energy East, the backdrop of all of this is a much larger shift ending the era of fossil-fuel dominance.

While climate chaos unfolds daily, the global movement to stop fossil fuels is blocking new coal mines, banning fracking and Arctic offshore drilling and, yes, stopping pipelines. It’s high time we stop fighting over fossilized energy projects and start the hard work of realizing a sustainable economy that works for people and the planet.


Andrea Harden-Donahue is an energy and climate-justice campaigner, and Maude Barlow is honorary chairperson of the Council of Canadians.

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