Canada’s Pipeline Furore

The Politics of Pipelines


By Eribert Loehner

Justin Trudeau
Justin Trudeau

Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been cruising along the highway of Canadian popular opinion since he was elected.

However, it appears he may have just hit a sizeable pot-hole in the province of British Columbia because he approved the construction of an oil pipeline.

Canada is blessed, or cursed, depending on your point of view, with substantial oil reserves.

Much of this oil is in Alberta, a land locked province east of the Rocky Mountains.

Most is exported to the United States where it is purchased at 30% to 50% less than the benchmark West Texas Intermediate price.

Costs and risks

Some of this differential is due to the grade of oil produced in Alberta, but the main reason Americans are not willing to pay more is because Canada does not have the infrastructure necessary to export large volumes of oil to other customers.

There is only one pipeline that carries some oil to the shores of the Pacific Ocean, where it can be accessed by Asian markets, and it’s operating at capacity.

Pipeline under construction
Pipeline under construction

The Trans-Mountain Pipeline runs from Edmonton in Alberta, through the Rocky Mountains to the Municipality of Burnaby, a Vancouver suburb. This pipeline has been in operation since 1953, but not without incident.

Oil sprays from severed pipeline, Burnaby, BC, in 2007
Oil sprays from severed pipeline, Burnaby, BC, in 2007

In 2007 a hydraulic excavator punctured the underground line and an entire Burnaby neighbourhood was sprayed with crude oil. The oil eventually leaked into Vancouver Harbour.

Due to the depressed price of oil, both the Federal and Alberta Governments have declared it necessary to get the best possible price for Canada’s oil resource.

Some 15,000 jobs in Alberta are dependent on the construction of a new pipeline through British Columbia to Tidewater, and therein rests the problem.

Any pipeline through British Columbia forces the province to carry the highest burden of environmental risk — yet it derives the least benefit.

Oil pipeline protest
Oil pipeline protest

Tough choices for Trudeau

Before Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Government was elected there were many protests against pipelines in British Columbia. Some resulted in civil disobedience and arrests.

Many Liberal MPs representing constituents in British Columbia were elected because they opposed pipeline construction; now their leader has approved one.

Ultimately, it is up to the Prime Minister to make the difficult decisions. He must wear these around his neck as either love beads or an albatross.

2017 might well be Justin Trudeau’s British Columbia summer of discontent, not the least of which may be within his own party.

Unfortunately, the British Columbia provincial government does not have much authority when it comes to pipelines. These are governed by the National Energy Board; a Federal agency that governs all matters related to energy in Canada. It studies issues and makes recommendations directly to our Governor General who represents the Queen; our head of state. The recommendations are then forwarded to the Prime Minister and his cabinet for a final decision. His decision is based on a “net benefit for Canada” even if it is a “net detriment” to British Columbia.

From Ann Lawler, of Otaki

Dear Sir
I support the Mayor’s move to encourage a return of democracy for Kapiti Coast District Council ratepayers, the three minute open forum to widen or introduce debate. But you have to be there to know what ratepayers say. From 2014 meetings have been live-streamed but not recorded (except secretly). Adjacent councils confirm that after ‘set-up costs’ keeping a record that ratepayers (and staff) can access costs little. It’s $ well spent – dealing with an informed public costs little compared to the cost of frustration fuelled OIA requests. Sometimes those who live in a community have real insights and good ideas, they care. Its great to share.

The same with the forum. It takes courage to introduce change, thank you for that, Mayor Guru. It also takes courage to speak. Not everyone who wants to be informed can get to meetings, an audio transcript of speakers would be further proof democracy is returning, with opinions shared across the community. At times, all people want is to ‘tell it like it is’, and the forum offers no more than that. It is enough. But limit what is said to the few who can go and it is not (and maybe the staff and CEO want to know, too).

Mayor Guru mentions matters speakers raised were in the agenda for the following meeting. That illustrates the KCDC flaw of strictly following LGA requirements that draft minutes appear a minimum of two days before a meeting. Other local authorities have draft minutes available within a week of the meeting – perhaps two or more weeks before the next meeting. Can KCDC? That would stop the time wasting of the mayor’s third argument.

A factually well informed public is actually less trouble, as Brexit and and US election results show. Let’s hear it for democracy…. on our headphones or however we tune in.

Yours sincerely
Ann Lawler
3 Mahoe Street, Otaki 5512 022 643 1068