Canadian pipelines’ Greek tragedy is ruining our energy economy


Well, one is better than none. A recent trial balloon signalled that the prime minister will approve one major oil pipeline project and it is likely to be Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion from near Edmonton to Burnaby, just east of Vancouver.

We are to believe this is a balanced approach: The government will reject most projects because it is a great defender of the environment. But it will approve one, because it is not a radical opponent of all resource development.

Of course, this planned leak reveals what is driving the Liberal strategy. Not science, evidence-based decision-making, respect for independent regulatory recommendations or even the misleading concept of social licence.

No, this is blatant politics, visible through a veneer of “open” consultation. The Liberals hold 15 of the 23 seats in the Lower Mainland of B.C. and 40 seats in Quebec. If a choice must be made, follow the votes.

Too bad for Energy East, which would transport 1.1 million barrels a day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick for consumers in Eastern Canada and for export to Europe and India.

It is also too bad for Canada, because this is not an either/or proposition. We need to build every oil pipeline that is environmentally safe and economically justifiable. Right now those would total $34 billion in capital expenditures, not including Keystone XL.

They could generate considerable benefits in employment, economic growth, terms of trade, national security and revenue for governments to fund critical social programs like health care and education.

A Greek tragedy occurs when a protagonist is brought to ruin because of a moral weakness like hubris, or an inability to cope with challenging circumstances. Often it transpires over a prolonged period, while spectators watch with deepening dread at the looming disaster.

So it is for Canada, which will suffer from our unwillingness to overcome opposition to the development of our abundant natural resources. The harm is already unfolding, although most people have not come to grips with the impending cost. Eventually they will, as our personal economic circumstances suffer increasingly from anaemic growth, high unemployment, ballooning debt and constrained social spending.

When the history is written it will be clear that it need not have happened, that the harm was largely self-inflicted, that we succumbed to a pervasive propaganda campaign that somehow managed to convince Canadians to buy into a startling narrative: Do what no other country in the world has done — ignore the vast natural abundance that could enrich our economy and provide us with a high standard of living and security.

Believe the exaggerated, manipulative and false claims of Luddites who utterly oppose the modern development of our natural resources, irrespective of the dire consequences that would inevitably inflict on our economy. Countenance bullying tactics and threats from militant opponents, provided they are clothed in green.

Succumb to the arrogant assertion that unanimity is a precondition to approval. Assume that all First Nations oppose resource development, when in fact many aboriginal people see the enormous benefits of these projects to their communities.

Finally, let governments off the hook for lacking the moral fibre to take on the enemies of progress and for failing to do what every representative government should do — advancing the national interest and the interest of its people — even if that is not universally popular.

It is obvious, but must be repeated. No project should proceed unless it is safe for Canadians and safe for the environment. I do not assert that defensively or as a sop to environmentalists. I say it because I believe it profoundly.

When an independent review panel recommended against the billion-dollar Taseko New Prosperity mine project in the B.C. interior, our Conservative government rejected it, in spite of political and commercial pressure. But when a regulatory authority said yes to a project, with hundreds of pre-conditions, we approved it.

That is the evidence-based approach the Liberal government claims to adopt, but deliberately subverts by politicizing the regulatory-review process, extending the timeline, broadening the scope and allowing “all Canadians” the right to participate in the hearings process (according to the minister of natural resources).

As we move through the beginning of the end of an intense political honeymoon, the government will need to make tough decisions that will impact Canada’s future and determine its legacy. We urgently need political leadership that will inform Canadians as to what is at stake and actively advocate for oil pipeline projects that have received regulatory approval. Alas, no evidence of that yet.

Joe Oliver is a former minister of natural resources and of finance.

Story: Financial Post