Lost in the summer haze is one of the largest nation-building job opportunities seen in a generation. The Energy East pipeline project would have been a massive game changer, not just for the Atlantic provinces, but for the entire country. It would have assured our energy independence and kick-started an increasingly sluggish economy.
Unfortunately, Justin Trudeau killed the project with his dithering and punishing regulatory changes. The ongoing challenges we face over trade, immigration and productivity generally, though, require a new approach. And that includes revisiting the multi-billion dollar TransCanada Energy East project, to bring Alberta’s oil to the Atlantic coast for export.
Justin Trudeau killed the project with his dithering and punishing regulatory changes
Canadians know our energy industry has always been a key economic driver for prosperity and a huge job producer. For decades many Atlantic Canadians and others have packed up their duffel bags and headed down the road for work “out West.” Sometimes slagged for being welfare bums and abusers of EI and equalization, the industrious and hard-working folks of our region endured hardship and went where they could find a paycheque to feed their families, even when the work was thousands of kilometres away in such places as Fort McMurray and Leduc. Leaving all you know and love out of a sense of obligation and desire to find gainful employment is an admirable demonstration of character and commitment, not dependence or entitlement. Eastern workers also offered the labour to keep the Western energy sector and economy thriving, which benefited the whole nation.
The energy sector is a unique sector of our economy that provides good-paying jobs and massive revenue returns for all, including government coffers. Yet it is struggling because of government decisions and regulations, loud detractors who seem to have the ear of the PMO and a long-obvious need for more pipeline infrastructure. Over the past few weeks, U.S. President Donald Trump has significantly upped the ante on the anti-Canada rhetoric and hit our economy with tariffs. Canada can reply with our own tariffs, which will hurt our workers, too. Or we can get serious about improving our own infrastructure and getting our energy products to global markets.
Energy East is shovel-ready. Much of the route exists and it would quickly create thousands of jobs. (Don’t we have an infrastructure bank looking for big projects like this one?) It could safely move 1.1 million barrels of crude oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan to Saint John, N.B., every day, where raw product can be refined by Irving oil in their facility adding value and more jobs. Removing more volatile material from the rail lines reduces the chance of another Lac-Mégantic disaster. It would boost our energy independence and allow us to export to new markets, and at the same time use our own energy, instead of shipping it in from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Venezuela (while complaining and hectoring our suppliers about human-rights abuses).
And, critically, it would bolster our sense of national unity. Canadians would be working with Canadians to support Canadians. Our allies, particularly in Europe, would certainly also welcome a chance to support our ethical oil and lessen their dependence on Russia’s energy exports.
Sadly the Trudeau government iced this truly positive economic opportunity by bringing in last-minute rule changes and a regulatory standard that doesn’t apply to any other sector of the Canadian economy, or the foreign oil that Canadians are being forced to use. We also know the government boxed itself in through delay and political pandering to the point where, out of necessity, it was forced to purchase the Kinder Morgan pipeline with taxpayers’ money. The purchase has clearly done nothing to address the challenges facing the project: the inter-provincial squabbles, court challenges, environmental protests or the concerns of First Nations. It’s hard to be confident the pipeline will ever be built.
The government’s energy policies are failing Canadians. Along with higher taxes, red tape and stumbling trade talks, they create a further competitive disadvantage as we try to deal with the unpredictable President Trump. Foreign investment is plummeting and we are viewed increasingly as an unproductive and risky economy.
Circumstances have changed, as has the mayor of Montreal and other impediments
The good news is: there is still time. Ottawa can revisit and revive Energy East with the owners of TransCanada. Circumstances have changed, as has the mayor of Montreal and other impediments. A change of heart and a change of mind on subjects of national importance is healthy in some cases. There are many nonpartisan proponents like the CEOs of the Association of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce who consider this project urgent. Just as the national railway dream worked for John A. Macdonald 150 years ago, Energy East is a nation-building project that can help secure Canada’s economic future and energy independence while fostering national unity and helping our allies. What are we waiting for?
— Peter MacKay is a senior partner at Baker & McKenzie, and formerly served as federal justice minister and attorney-general of Canada.