The Northern Gateway Project, promises to keep British Columbia mired in debate for years to come. Despite the National Energy Board’s recent approval, staunch opposition from First Nations groups and environmentalists looks set to suspend the pipeline in a state of legal limbo.
Across the border, meanwhile, the high-stakes world of pipeline politics means U.S. State Department approval for Keystone XL continues to elude TransCanada Corp. As those projects stagnate, the spotlight is about to turn to the Energy East project, a proposal to ship Alberta crude to New Brunswick. Long before any ground is broken, though, a little province called Ontario will have some big questions to face.
Although the particulars may be different, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has just as much reason to worry about a new pipeline passing through central Canada as B.C. Premier Christy Clark does about seeing one head to the West Coast. P
It’s easy to understand why the oil industry wants to find a route that will get its bitumen to a coast. Doing so will allow western Canadian producers to get world prices for their oil.
The benefits for Ontario are harder to see. Premier Wynne recently shared a stage with Al Gore, who gave her kudos for reducing Ontario’s reliance on coal-fired power. Nationally, however, Ontario’s efforts to cut the amount of carbon pollution from electricity generation are more than offset by the growth in emissions from the oil sands, which are expected to triple by 2020 from 2005 levels. New pipelines would allow production to continue to expand, meaning those emissions would only head higher. If Alberta can be considered the culprit behind Canada’s sad track record on carbon emissions, then Ontario’s acquiescence to the Energy East pipeline would make it a willing accomplice.
If the threat to natural gas supply and soaring carbon emissions aren’t enough to get the Premier’s attention on Energy East, then there’s also the economy to consider. Ontario’s once mighty manufacturing sector hasn’t shared in the spoils of Canada’s emergence as an energy superpower. As the country’s oil-dominated trade flows have tied the value of the loonie to triple-digit world oil prices, the resulting strength of the currency has turned into a curse for exporters in general and Ontario’s factories in particular. Over the past decade, Ontario’s share of Canada’s GDP has shrunk to its lowest level in the postwar period. During roughly the same time frame, the province has also lost more than 300,000 manufacturing jobs.
Ontario’s Premier would do well to take a note from her counterpart on the West Coast. Christy Clark didn’t shy away from objecting to her province being used as a conduit to move Alberta’s bitumen to foreign markets. At the very least, she insisted that some of the economic benefits of the project would have to flow to B.C., a condition that’s yet to be met. Halfway across the country, Wynne has at least as much at stake in looking out for the best interests of her own province.