Analysis: Time For Feds To Go Back To Pipeline Drawing Board

Blame me, kinda.

I moved back to Calgary from New York in July of 2014 — just as crude prices began crashing back to earth — to take a job with the Conference Board of Canada in an attempt to help break the crude pipeline logjam. No one had heard of Alberta or the oilsands when my family and I moved to Chappaqua — yeah, the small NY town where the Clintons live — in the summer of 2010. A year and a half later, the dirty oil lobby held a well-attended town hall meeting in Chappaqua, and then everyone had heard of Alberta and the tarsands.

My theory, based on the success of the Obama administration selling hydraulic fracking to the American public, was to bring all the key stakeholders together to gradually hash out a grand bargain through what came to be known as the Canadian Transition Energy Initiative (CTEI; pronounced see-tee). The goals of the initiative included protecting the environment, respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, and gaining consent to construct new crude pipeline capacity to tidewater. Sound familiar?

CTEI got off to a great start, with me getting getting to know Chief Phil Fontaine. Phil believed the Conference Board was the one organization in Canada with the credibility to help pull off the grand bargain. He agreed to join the initiative as the Indigenous representative.

In September 2015, on the eve of the last federal election, the Conference Board launched the energy initiative at a conference in Ottawa. Representatives of all the key stakeholder groups were in one room for the first time ever. Tzeporah Berman, environmental activist extraordinaire, was the keynote lunch speaker, and for the first time acknowledged a role for the oilsands in the energy mix. Tzeporah agreed to join CTEI as the environmental representative.

The beginning of the end of CTEI — and my job at the Conference Board in the heart of an Alberta economic depression — was the election of Justin Trudeau and the Liberals on October 19, 2015. The new federal government was gung-ho about a grand bargain, as seen by its energy and environment policies ever since, but preferred to impose it quickly and top down, rather than through an iterative approach to build support of leaders from all key stakeholder groups.

As seen by the energy and environment policies of the Notley government, it also borrowed liberally from CTEI, and even adopted the iterative approach for building support for the grand bargain. Unfortunately, it only included representatives of key stakeholder groups from Alberta, with Tzeporah the notable exception.

Possibly the final nail in CTEI’s coffin was bringing Alison Redford on as its titular head, at the behest of Notley — she felt Redford deserved another chance, according to the premier’s representative. But in December 2015 Tobaccogate again reared its ugly head, and Redford became persona non grata to the Alberta government yet again.

Which brings us to our present crude pipeline debacle, with the Federal Court of Appeal quashing the federal cabinet’s November 2016 approval of the Trans Mountain expansion (TMX) project on August 30. As of now, the federal and Alberta governments have both given away the farm for absolutely nothing — not even a bunch of crappy beans.

The feds gave the environmentalists and their allies a national climate change plan, a $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan, an oil tanker moratorium on the Northern B.C. coast, and killed two crude pipeline projects — Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway and TransCanada’s Energy East — for nothing in return.

The Notley government gave away the provincial Climate Leadership Plan, including a 100 megatonnes per year cap on oilsands emissions, while inflicting the insufferable Tzeporah on the Alberta public for nearly 12 months as she co-chaired the Oil Sands Advisory Group.

In retrospect, if done right, I don’t know if CTEI could have achieved a grand bargain and broken Western Canada’s crude pipeline logjam — I personally committed at least one blunder of biblical proportions. But, what I do know, the world has changed since I first conceived of CTEI. We no longer need to balance just environment and economy, but must include energy security in the policy mix as well.

The world changed with the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president. In his 19 months in office, Trump has proven to be everything billed on the campaign trail. His administration’s aggressive trade tactics have put the predominant market for our oil and gas exports at risk. In addition, as discussed in Time To Secure Canada’s Oil Security earlier this week, supplies of foreign oil for our eastern refineries are increasingly at risk, with Mideast disorder prime for geopolitical competition in the emerging multipolar world.

As a result, the Trudeau government needs to go back to the drawing board. It needs to defang Bill C-69 to make it easier to build new oil and gas pipelines, not harder. It needs to support construction of the TMX project by addressing the two flaws identified by the federal court — inadequate consultations with First Nations and failure to consider the impact of increased tanker traffic on the maritime environment — not waste time appealing a very clear-cut decision to the Supreme Court, assuming the highest court in the land is even willing to hear it (see Elsie Ross’s Supreme Court Hearing Of Trans Mountain Appeal Not A Given).

The Trudeau government also needs to kill passage of the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act in the Senate, while supporting construction of crude pipelines to Prince Rupert and the east coast. At the same time, it needs to maintain its current climate change and ocean protection plans, as protecting the environment is important and it would appear petty to cancel or downgrade them. In a nutshell, Trudeau needs to put on his big boy pants and lead.

On the other hand, based on the Alberta government’s reaction to the federal court’s TMX decision —  recommending an appeal to the Supreme Court and pulling the province out of the federal climate plan —  and everything that led up to it, it would be best for Notley and company to simply sit on their hands and wait to be crushed by Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party in the 2019 election. The Notley government has proven incapable of doing anything intelligent to break Western Canada’s crude pipeline logjam.