Neither industry nor government has ever said climate policies were quid pro quo for pipeline social license
Judging by the hysteria surrounding the arrest of a few protestors at Monday’s Energy East hearings in Montreal, Canadian pipeline boosters have completely missed the point of social license, which is why we should stop listening to them.
Here are a few samples of boosters’ bogus arguments over the past few days:
Brian Jean, Wildrose Party leader: “Albertans were told that in exchange for paying $9 billion in carbon taxes over the next five years, projects like Energy East would be given a fair shake by the radical left and its activists within the environmental movement.”
Claudia Cattaneo, Postmedia columnist: “The deplorable violent demonstrations during the National Energy Board’s hearings on the Energy East pipeline in Montreal, and Tuesday’s announcement the hearings have been suspended indefinitely, provide more proof Ottawa’s pursuit of social licence for major energy projects is pointless, even harmful.”
Lorne Gunter, SunMedia columnist: “Hah! As the disruption of the now-suspended NEB hearing in Montreal proves, there is no amount of social licence that will buy the approval of “green” protestors or politicians.”
No one – at least no one of any consequence – is arguing that climate change policies from Alberta (NDP Premier Rachel Notley) and the Canadian government (Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) were a quid pro quo with eco-activists like Greenpeace or Forest Ethics Advocacy or the Dogwood Initiative.
The argument is ridiculous on a prima facie basis.
Eco-activists have never said they would grant social license to pipeline projects in exchange for a carbon tax or an emissions cap on the Alberta oil sands or reductions in oil and gas methane emissions. At best, environmentalists have given only grudging praise, then demanded more draconian action, as this press release from Greenpeace illustrates.
On the other hand, Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, provides an accurate description of industry’s expectations about Alberta’s new climate policies, announced on Nov. 22: ““As Premier Notley said today, we expect today’s announcement to further enhance the reputation of our sector and improve our province’s environmental credibility as we seek to expand market access nationally and internationally.”
So, what’s really going on?
Last month I interviewed Jim Carr, Canada’s natural resources minister, about the Trudeau Government’s pipeline strategy. Carr outlined a three-point plan for getting pipelines approved.
One, repair Canada’s relationship with First Nations (especially in light of the Federal Court of Appeals throwing out the Northern Gateway approval because the Stephen Harper Tories failed in their “duty to consult” with aboriginal groups).
Two, do pipeline politics better. Despite being vocal pipeline boosters, the Harper Government mishandled the file from top to bottom, and aside from sending Joe Oliver around the country to give pro-pipeline speeches to anyone who would listen, completely failed to build a political coalition to support projects like Energy East.
Three, tweak the pipeline review process in order to restore the legitimacy of the National Energy Board, which has been damaged by relentless public attacks from the eco-activists.
I asked Carr how efforts to improve in these three areas would affect the Energy East project in Ontario and Quebec. Here is his response:
Our strategy is to create a process and room for all Canadians who have an interest in these major projects to express themselves, and ultimately the cabinet will take its responsibility and make decisions in the national interest. We think that when those decisions are made, Canadians will say, ‘Yes, that was thoughtful and a reasonable way to get to a decision.’
I know full well and so do you that not every single Canadian is going to agree, that those decisions were the right ones. But that’s the job of government – to consult, to offer lots of opportunity for a discussion and then to make a decision that we believe to be in the national interest for which we will be held accountable by the people of Canada.
Monday’s brouhaha in a Montreal meeting room does not, as Cattaneo claims, mean that what “we are getting instead is aggressive climate change policy, and even more aggressive opposition to pipelines.”
What it does mean is that the process laid out by Carr is moving ahead. Canadians are being consulted about Energy East. That a small number of Canadians illegally and momentarily disrupted that process doesn’t discredit the effort one bit.
It simply means that democracy is a little more messy than pipeline boosters are comfortable with.
Is there a high likelihood the Liberals’ revamped process will lead to pipeline approvals? While Minister Carr wouldn’t pre-empt Cabinet or the Prime Minister, here is what he had to say:
The Prime Minister has said many times that it’s a major responsibility of the Government of Canada to move our natural resources to market sustainably. That’s our objective and that’s why we have established this way of coming to a contemporary answer to what sustainably means.
Judge for yourself if that statement is grounds for optimism about Energy East, but a reasonable man might be encouraged to buy some TransCanada stock in the near future.