Oil and Water
by Marzena Czarnecka
Pipeline proponents and opponents hold starkly different views about the Canadian economy. How much compromise is needed to get the pipelines built?
Pipeline projects have rarely been uncontroversial. The 1956 approval process for what would become the first TransCanada pipeline, connecting consumers in Ontario and Québec to the supply of natural gas in Western Canada, effectively brought down the federal Liberal government that pushed it through, and ended the careers of several prominent politicians, including then Minister of Trade and Commerce, C.D. Howe.
But none have even approximated the polarization, passion and outright hysteria currently accompanying the proposed trans-provincial Northern Gateway pipeline and the now stalled cross-border Keystone XL pipeline. Whether one listens to the projects' proponents and their advocates – including the unabashedly partisan
, pro-pipeline federal government – or the environmental and community groups lobbying against the project, the rhetoric is beyond inflamed, and anything that smacks of compromise is apparently off the table.
Why? Simply, because the stakes have never been higher. Not for the environmentalists, not for the project proponents, and not for the energy-focused Canadian government. In 2010, energy products accounted for more than 22 per cent of Canada's export revenue. Not all of that is the oil sands crude that would flow through Gateway and Keystone, of course, but Harper's policy-makers see oil sands production alone increasing the Canadian GDP by nearly $800 billion between 2000 and 2020. Currently, Canada exports 69 per cent of its crude, oil sands and other, most of it to the United States. Gateway in Canada would bring that supply to the West Coast; and while Keystone XL in the US is nominally about getting it more efficiently to the US market, it's ultimately about getting that supply out of Port Arthur.