National Column: Provincial pipeline support sliding

by Chantal Hebert

Time and the turning of the provincial wheel have not been kind to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate change framework. But nor have the electoral developments of the past few weeks and years been any kinder to the pro-pipeline agenda of his Conservative rivals.

With the defection of Ontario from the provincial consensus that was until recently behind the federal bid to put a price on carbon pollution, Trudeau will have to plead his case directly to voters next fall.

No governing party relishes the prospect of campaigning for re-election against the backdrop of a politically contentious new tax. But the Conservative promise to use all federal means to steamroll over provincial objections and clear the path to more pipelines could be as hard or harder to sell.

The 180-degree turn in Ontario’s stance on carbon pricing brought about by Doug Ford’s victory last spring has tended to obscure the fact that overall, it is pipeline opponents who have been gaining influence in a variety of provincial arenas.

First there was the replacement 18 months ago in British Columbia of a moderately pipeline-friendly ruling Liberal party by a minority NDP government dependent on the Green Party for its survival. Since then, opponents of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion have been in the driver’s seat in the B.C. legislature.

As of this week, the latter is no longer the only provincial venue where pipeline opponents hold a position of significant influence.

In the aftermath of Monday’s provincial election in New Brunswick, which resulted in the two main parties finishing within one seat of each other, the Green party now shares the balance of power with the People’s Alliance in the province’s legislative assembly.

Premier Brian Gallant may be ready to offer a seat at the cabinet table to one of the three elected Green MLAs in exchange for that party’s support for a Liberal minority government.
The Tories are also exploring an alliance with the three People’s Alliance MLAs, but that could be more problematic. An arrangement with a party that advocates a scaling down of New Brunswick’s bilingual services could come at significant electoral cost to the Blaine Higgs’s Conservatives down the road.

The pipeline issue was not front and centre in the New Brunswick campaign, but it could be in next fall’s federal election. Andrew Scheer is planning to run on the promise that a Conservative federal government would try to resuscitate the Energy East pipeline, TransCanada’s project to link the Alberta oilfields to the Atlantic coast. A New Brunswick government dependent on Green party support for stability and possibly survival would be poorly placed to continue to actively advocate for a controversial pipeline.

A third provincial minority government could see the light of day when Quebec goes to the polls on Monday. Whatever the ultimate makeup of the next National Assembly, it will feature a very strong contingent of pipeline opponents.

To varying degrees, the Liberals, the Parti Quebecois and Quebec Solidaire all oppose the revival of the Energy East project. In government, the Coalition Avenir Quebec would be more likely to join the parade than choose to die on a pipeline hill.

The environment turned out to be the sleeper issue of the Quebec campaign, and QS – the party that most championed the fight against climate change – gained the most ground in the pre-election polls.

If the CAQ wins a first term in government on Monday but fails to secure a majority, Francois Legault will be looking for quick ways to expand his partyís reach. In this campaign, the partyís lack of solid environmental credentials was a major liability.

Ironically, there has probably never been a time when voters could be more receptive to the notion that Canada needs to lessen its dependence on the U.S. markets. But that is not the battleground the leading political pro-pipeline voices have elected to fight on. They would rather lead a charge against the windmills of a carbon tax.

Earlier this week, Scheer listed the measures a Conservative government would take to get the pipeline projects designed to bring more oil to the coasts back up and running. Reversing Trudeauís climate change policy and doing away with the Liberal carbon pricing measures figured in a prominent position on his to-do list.

But when it comes to advancing the building of more pipelines, eliminating provincial and/or federal carbon taxes is at best a solution in search of a problem.

The advent of a carbon tax may not make a pipeline any easier to get built. But nor would scrapping such taxes result in a single kilometre of pipe being laid more quickly. If anything, the prescriptions pursued by Scheer and his provincial fellow travellers will only pump more oxygen in an anti-pipeline movement already energized by its provincial breakthroughs.

Twitter: @ChantalHbert
Copyright 2018-Torstar Syndication Services

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