The headline above is a “word-for-word” tweet from someone who didn’t like Gary Mason’s column in The Globe and Mail on Dec. 2, called The Rest of Canada Needs Pipelines. It’s worth a read. Mason’s argument is that in Alberta, tens of thousands of people have been out of work for almost two years and have used up their EI benefits and are now on welfare.
Many will lose their homes to foreclosure. Oil workers in Newfoundland have been affected as well.
People in Vancouver, he says, “need to get out of their idyllic little bubbles and see how things are in the rest of the country. Not everyone has locked into a small fortune as a result of home ownership. Many people across this country live day to day.”
So, in full expectation of being tarred (and feathered), let me wade into this debate with some random thoughts:
1. For expressing his opinion that the twinning of the existing oil pipeline is in the national interest, Mason was pilloried in social media. But it’s not just him. Anyone who publicly states even reserved support for the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion is the modern-day equivalent of the Antichrist. Some of the most vocal Kinder Morgan naysayers seem to think the proponents want ecological Armageddon (and every whale dead). We don’t. We just want to recognize that we still live in an industrialized economy that has to use oil until something better replaces it.
2. I’m a big proponent of the Rule of Law. What’s fascinating is that everybody else seems to be in favour of the Rule of Law as well . . . until they don’t. Then they lie down in front of bulldozers and try to get arrested because they don’t like the decision the federal government has made in the national interest. I guess if Elizabeth May and David Suzuki lie down in front of bulldozers or chain themselves to tractors (and thereby break the law), they should be arrested. I’m OK with that. If the naysayers want a government that won’t support pipelines, they should vote for another political party.
3. It’s not a new pipeline route. An oil pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby has been in operation since 1953. It’s been there for more than 60 years and the proposal is to twin it so that volume is increased.
4. Obviously, more volume increases the statistical possibility of a spill or leak and increases tanker traffic in very industrial Burrard Inlet, where tankers have been shipping sulphur, lumber, consumer and industrial goods and oil for more than two generations. Like any other dangerous industrial activity, one manages it. And there are risks. But there are risks involved in flying from Vancouver to Toronto. If the plane goes down, everyone dies. We don’t say “the risk is too great” and not fly. We fly knowing that the risks are mitigated as much as possible. So, in a technological society like ours, we manage the risk.
5. There has to be due diligence above and beyond anything they’ve done to date, so that risk is minimized and the pipeline can be shut down and a leak isolated at a moment’s notice. I think even those who support the pipeline (like me) would be the first to say to Kinder Morgan: “If you guys screw up, and any of that oil leaks anywhere, you have to fix it, and in addition to fixing it, and remediating the land and the water, it’s going to cost you an absolute mind-boggling, gut-busting fortune in penalties.” It strikes me that knowing what is at stake, Kinder Morgan will be very diligent.
6. The question isn’t oil or no oil. The question is: Given the alternatives, what’s the safest way that oil can be transported until we transition to some other form of energy that produces less carbon? As with the spice in Frank Herbert’s Dune, the oil will flow. Given that the oil will flow (one way or another), is it safer to move it from Edmonton through the Rocky Mountains on a bunch of rail cars (and since Lac-Mégantic, we know how safe that is) or is a pipeline safer?
7. Justin Trudeau had to make a tough decision and he made it. He said, “There isn’t a country in the world that would find billions of barrels of oil and leave it in the ground while there is a market for it,” and he’s going to take political heat for that in the Lower Mainland. What I respect is that he’s prepared to make a tough decision in the national interest, notwithstanding the political fallout he will suffer from his supporters in the environmental movement in B.C. He knows that in order to maintain Canada’s high standard of living, maintain national unity and be able to fund our expensive social programs on which Canadians rely, Canada needs tax revenue from oil.
8. Yes, I said national unity. Forgotten in all of this is the contribution Alberta has made to the national economy over the past 50 years. Canadians owe much of their high standard of living (and the ability of governments to fund cherished social programs) to tax revenue derived from the sale of Alberta oil. Alberta needs access to a tidewater port so that it can try to get a higher price for that oil than selling oil to the United States through existing pipelines. It’s unfair to prevent the export of Alberta oil without preventing the Ontario automotive industry from manufacturing cars.
9. I don’t think it would take very much for a group of angry and vocal Alberta politicians to argue that Alberta is not getting anything out of Canada anymore and spearhead a referendum to separate from Canada and then join the United States. And that, folks, would be the end of Canada.
So, yes, a pipeline sending more Alberta oil to B.C. for shipment abroad is very much in the national interest.