This post will be on the very hot-button issue of oil pipelines in Québec. The pipeline company, TransCanada, is planning to upgrade existing cross-Canada pipelines, and build extensions. It will pipe Canadian domestic “oil-sands” oil to Eastern Canadian refineries for the very first time in history (currently, Eastern Canadian refineries refine imported foreign oil or oil brought in from Western Canada by train).
Here’s a map I made which gives a general overview of the plans (click to enlarge)
Unless you watch or listen to the media in French, people in predominantly Anglophone provinces seldom hear the actual conversations going on between Québécois themselves (it’s kind of an unfortunate reality, but then again, provincially-specific topics in Canada are rarely discussed anywhere but in their own respective provinces, regardless if they are in English or French).
I was driving from Québec City to Montréal earlier this week and listening to a Québec City radio station when I overheard an interesting discussion between two rather influential public figures. It was a discussion of opposing views on the whole issue of oil pipelines being laid across Québec. I thought I’d translate a portion of the conversation and share it with you to give a little bit of insight of how people in Québec are viewing the issues. The next Federal election is slated for end October 2015 (unless for some reason it’s called soon after the March budget – which looks less and less likely), and this conversation embodies how the issue is being discussed in the run-up to the election.
Carl Monette is a radio program host on Radio-X, Québec City – Eastern Québec’s most listened to radio station.
Bernard Drainville is a contender for the leadership of the Parti Québécois. He is a former PQ cabinet minister, and used to be a well-known reporter for Radio-Canada.
The following is a translation (from French) of a small part of their much larger conversation on Radio-X. This particular segment relates directly to oil piplelines.
DRAINVILLE: [In a conversation about sovereignty, Drainville says…] If we cannot hold a referendum in the first mandate [if we can win the next election], then we need to take the time during that mandate to show to the electorate that we’re able to [achieve sovereignty]. We need to give the economic numbers, we need to present economic and financial forecasts. We need to demonstrate that it will be a good thing. Look what’s happening with the [TransCanada] pipeline [which they want to build across Québec]. [Liberal Québec Premier] Couillard tells us we have to accept a pipeline which moves 1.1 million barrels of oil a day, on our soil, solely in exchange for a [$9 billion federal] equalization cheque. For me, forget the equalization cheque – because just look at the price tag which will come with it for us: It’s going to be a 100 year pipeline, it can actually last 100 years if it’s well maintained. So then [within that period], who’s going to pay if it bursts? Who? Who’s going to pay if it bursts [sometime in the next 100 years]? (note: I’m assuming he means that TransCanada, the company, may not exist in say 40 or 80 years, just as companies which existed 50 years ago don’t exist today).
MONETTE: So then, are we better to then just continue importing our gas from Texas, already refined, on our St. Lawrence River? You want it to be done this way rather than bringing it in from here at home, refine it here at home, and using it here at home? That’s what I understand you to be saying.
(note: Eastern Canada imports oil primarily from North Africa, Venezuela, and somewhat from the US. This is because there are no pipelines from Western Canada. Whereas Western Canada’s gasoline is mostly from domestic sources, Eastern Canadian gasoline is primarily imported from other countries).
DRAINVILLE: Come on, we don’t refine anything here at home. The TransCanada pipeline…
MONETTE: So then we don’t do anything? We do absolutely nothing? The money that Canada will make from the pipeline, it’s going to come back to us. It’s also our money too you know.
DRAINVILLE: The TransCanada pipeline, it’s used to transport oil across our territory [Québec], which is not refined here. [The pipline’s] only function is [to move the oil from West to East], to export the oil.
MONETTE: Yes, but that money, who do you think it goes to? Canadians get it.
DRAINVILLE: (Pause, & puffing noise)
MONETTE: We get it back in taxes! Would you rather pay for oil from Texas, and bring it in by boat on our St. Lawrence, than bring it in by pipeline? I don’t understand you.
DRAINVILLE: My objective is to reduce our dependence on oil. You know, our oil comes in from elsewhere, regardless if it comes from Alberta, Newfoundland, or Saudi Arabia – it all comes from elsewhere. It’s about time that we replace…
MONETTE: Why not bring it in from here at home? It’s always better to bring it in from our own country than from another, or a Mid-East country, or the United States?
DRAINVILLE: What’s the interest in allowing a pipeline which brings us hardly any major advantages?
MONETTE: It’s the most secure form of oil transportation that exists. It’s coming across our territory [Québec] regardless. So we’re better to take it in this manner for the time being [by pipeline], and once we develop other resources, then we’ll take those other sources. But for the time being, I know it sucks, but my car doesn’t run on water.
DRAINVILLE: Well, once we get to that point, the pipeline, we’re going to be stuck with it for 100 years. I’m not one for that. I think there are ways we can develop… Yes, I think you’re right, we have to make a transition. Of course we’re going to continue to use oil for a certain period of time…
MONETTE: We don’t have a choice. Look around you. About 95% of anything you see if made from oil. We don’t have a choice. I don’t want to buy my oil from the United States, or from the Middle-East. We have it here, so why don’t we use it in our own country?
DRAINVILLE: No, not with the [environmental] price that’s to be paid for it. Not with the risks that come with it. It’s not right what you’re proposing. The oil sands, the dirtiest form that exists.
MONETTE: When it comes to oil, there is no such thing as dirtier or less dirty, or half-dirty… Can we just agree on this? I don’t want boats coming here from Texas with oil that has already be refined.
DRAINVILLE: I’m going to tell you something… If you run a pipe under my property, but I’m the one who assumes all the risks, if an accident does ever occur, then I’m the one who’s on the hook for cleaning it up. Can you think of a reason why I should say that’s ok?
MONETTE: Ok… we have the (Québec) Ministry of Natural Resources who have already announced that the risks are going to be assumed by the pipeline companies. It was all covered in the media last week.
DRAINVILLE: Oh, come on… look at how you believe that sort of thing!
MONETTE: Yes. Well, it’s better than listening to the Parti Québécois when they say we’ll be living a rainbow dream with separation and that will make us rich.
DRAINVILLE: We saw how much the “beautiful assurances” did for us when we saw what happened in Lac-Mégantique. (Note: A train, moving oil from North Dakota to Maine, transited Québec two years ago, derailed, exploded, killed about 40 people, and basically blew an entire town off the face of the map – it was an awful tragedy, and emotions have been running sky-high ever since). Frankly, in Lac-Mégantique, Transport Canada didn’t do its job – Specifically Transport Canada. We saw the risks involved when you transit oil through our territory. Don’t you think it’s possible to draw some lessons from that experience? Don’t you think we can create a goal of reducing our dependence on oil? Are we not able to resist jumping on board in such projects, such as those of TransCanada which do nothing but make us run enormous risks for marginal benefits?
MONETTE: Oh, come on. No way, No way. It will be billions of dollars in taxes which will go into Federal coffers from this.
DRAINVILLE: Yah, there you go (sarcastic tone), right, the Federal government is going to put the money in “their” pockets.
MONETTE: Well, they’re giving us right now $9 billion dollars [in equalization payments], so I’m not jumping on the line you’re feeding me, you know. We’re never going to agree on this.
DRAINVILLE: No, on this we’re not going to agree on, but there will be other things we can agree on.
The two concluded their conversation on other topics. After hanging up, Monette had the following to say…
MONETTE: Bernard Drainville is someone for whom I still have respect, even if I agree with almost none of his stances, except for the Charter of Values. He’s come to the studio for past live interviews. We always have good discussions, but then we always finish in a pile of crap (tout le temps dans la marde). It’s not complicated – it usually goes like this… we start out never agreeing, our conversations go slowly up-hill, it turns an a not-so-great direction, but at least we finished on a good note.
As you can see, pipelines are very hot-button issues in Québec, with many people at odds on how to view them. I’m doing my best to write this post in as an objective manner as possible (I do have long-standing views on oil pipelines myself, but I don’t consider my views to be extreme, one way or the other. I consider them to be balanced, but in this post, I won’t discuss my own specific views in order to maintain a more neutral tone).
I can tell you, from my own personal experience in discussing this issue with friends in different regions of Québec, the whole issue of pipelines can become very emotional. There can be a strong principle & ideological based divide between people who believe pipelines are mostly an environmental matter versus those who believe they are mostly an economic matter. Adding to this complex mix, some people believe the issues should be managed strictly on a principle and ideological-based platform, and others believe the issues should be managed strictly on a practical, quick results, and a day-to-day reality basis. Regardless of your views on oil pipelines, more than in any other province in Canada, it would be in Québec where you would be likely to get into a very heated and emotional discussion on this issue (of course there are exceptions in every province, but I’m presenting this post in very general terms).
Probably only a few major issues will play into how Québécois will vote in the next Federal election (perhaps 4 or 5 major issues). One of the main issues will be the issue of laying oil pipelines within Québec.
In order to understand the issues, it’s important to mention that environmental and natural resource issues are usually “provincial” jurisdiction – but they constitutionally become federal jurisdiction when it enters the realm of cross-border domestic pipelines or cross-border international pollution – and thus because the pipelines will be crossing various provincial borders, the matter has become federal jurisdiction. It thus becomes an issue for the federal vote. That being said, Federal parties are more than aware that it would be political suicide to not include their provincial counterparts in the discussion, and at the very minimum, give weight to what provincial governments have to say (even if it’s not provincial jurisdiction). Much like BC and Ontario, Québec’s provincial government has said it will not give their (symbolic) consent to the TransCanada pipeline project unless certain environmental and safety conditions are met (Québec and Ontario drafted a list). Despite the province not having jurisdiction to impose such conditions, it would be political suicide for the Federal government to ignore such conditions – and thus the Feds are agreeing to accept provincially outlined conditions.
People in Western Canada are generally used to dealing with pipeline issues. Generally speaking (and yes, I’m overgeneralizing here):
- we see strong support for pipelines in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba,
- little support for them in BC (particularly in urban regions where the majority of the population resides, and especially when discussing pipelines in environmentally sensitive areas),
- very mixed signals towards them in Ontario (Ontario is a funny case – some regions are ok with them, yet other regions and people are quite skeptical or anti-pipeline)
- Pro-pipeline and luke-warm support in Atlantic Canada (yet NB is quite anti-fracking, which is interesting because other pro-pipeline regions across North America are often OK with fracking),
- A very mixed bag in Québec, but overall, a negative view towards pipelines being laid in the province. But there seems to be a lot of soul-searching on the issue in Québec at the moment.
I say there’s a mixed bag in Québec because of the Montréal / Québec City political and economic divide. Québec is often a Tale of Two Provinces (a concept very poorly understood in the rest of Canada). It’s a split between two major population zones; the East (Greater Québec City, and to some extent Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean / Beauce), and the West (Greater Montréal and to some extent other adjacent regions).
To give you an idea just how differently these two regions think, view issues and vote, you need to look no further than today’s Crop-La Presse poll on Québec City’s voting intentions :
- In Québec City region, with 37% of intended votes, the Federal Conservatives would win the majority of the vote if an election were held today. They would also likely pick up additional seats. The 2nd place goes to the NPD (31%), the Federal Liberals are 3rd place (they get 21%), and the Bloc Québécois is 4th place with 11%
- The poll didn’t give Montréal (West Québec) voting intentions, but it did give Québec’s overall voting intentions as a whole. The Liberals and in 1st place (37%), the NDP 2nd place (30%), the Bloc Québécois has 3rd place (17%) and the Conservative are 4th place (13%). That 13% presumably is entirely concentrated in the Québec City and adjacent regions.
- These latter numbers are for Québec as a whole, but Montréal votes much heavier for the NDP than other reasons. In Montréal, I would not be surprised if the NDP has 1st place, the Liberals 2nd, if the Bloc is 3rd, and the Conservatives have almost zero (the exact opposite from Québec City and Eastern Québec). These are what recent past polls have shown at any rate.
Montréal, and surrounding regions (which has the bulk of Québec’s population) are generally against pipelines – and you see this reflected with almost zero Conservative support in the Montréal region. There is a strong anti-pipeline activist movement in the region and in Montréwood media. People in the region often take a harder environmental line based on principle. Yes, I know there are nuances, but this is a general overview.
Québec City and surrounding regions (the 2nd most populous region of Québec) are not as hostile towards to the idea of pipelines, and you’ll note that the Conservatives are leading in this region. There is a major refinery in the Québec City metro region (Lévis), and people in the region are used to seeing (with their own eyes) petroleum ocean tankers going down the St. Lawrence, past downtown Québec, and docking at the oil terminal port in Lévis (when I was in Québec City this week, I stood on the banks of the St. Lawrence and watched as a couple foreign oil tanker steamed passed me – it was interesting to watch them dock at the refineries – and even more interesting to know that this very oil, be it from Africa or Venezuela, could very likely end up in my car’s tank in Toronto in a few weeks time). Also, overall political tendencies in the Greater Québec City region can be very different from those in Montréal.
If we look back to the radio conversation, both sides said things which are valid, and there are many other things both sides could have used in their respective arguments. As you could see, the conversation was generally discussed on an environmental vs. economic scale. Some of the facts which both Drainville and Monette gave were not correct, and some of the facts both gave were correct but incomplete. But the points which were incorrect were not major inaccuracies.
Drainville could have mentioned additional argument points, such as:
- the high CO2 emissions and waste water created from the oil-sand extraction process (in Alberta)
- issues regarding water and solid waste resulting from the oil-sand extraction process (in Alberta)
- the need to inject polluting and diluting chemicals directly into the heavy oil within the pipelines in order to make the oil viscous enough to be transported – and the problems of what to do with all these chemicals after the oil reaches its destination
- the emissions which will come from the Suncor, Lévis and Irving refineries in Québec and New Brunswick once a heavier oil is refined in these three refineries (imported oil, currently being refined in here is much lighter and doesn’t require as much upgrading).
- Even after refining and consuming the pipelines’ oil, there will be an excess of oil (about 1/3 of all the oil piped in the pipeline) which can be exported from Québec ports to other countries of the world. To date, proposed locations for new export terminal ports have been in environmentally sensitive areas, such as Cacouna, Québec – a place where noise-sensitive Beluga whales (an endangered species) mate and rear their young. (Note, two weeks ago, both TransCanada pipelines, the Québec government and the Federal government all agreed Cacouna is not an acceptable place to locate an export port – and they’re now searching for a new location)
- With more pipelines come more oil extraction, and there is a question as to whether “per-ton of oil” reductions in pollution can outpace “per-ton increases” in oil extraction.
- The potential damage to the environment (in Alberta and Québec, through potential pipe leaks, oil tanker accidents, and general emissions), while waiting for better environmental results to come about, could be severe.
Monnette could have mentioned things such as:
- Alberta’s provincial government carbon market imposes financial penalties on oil companies which pollute above a certain bar. The penalties are paid on a per-ton of pollution basis, and monies garnered are automatically placed in an environmental technology development fund. Companies have therefore been actively developing ways to reduce their pollution per ton of oil extracted, and every year there are better results per barrel of oil. If results continue in this same direction for another 30 years, there could be very promising results which will satisfy a much larger part of Québec’s concerns.
- Alberta’s government has been investing massively in developing new environmental pollution control technologies, and has been making substantial progress.
- The Québec Provincial government and BAPE (A Québec Ministry of Environment public consultation mechanism) have imposed newly developed, strict environmental and safety conditions on the Federal government. They minimize risks of accidents on any portion of the pipeline and oil transport process.
- Both the Suncor oil refinery in Montréal’s East End, and the Jean-Gaulin refinery in Lévis (Québec City) will, for the first time ever, be refining domestic oil. In order to refine the heavier oil-sands oil, they will require major upgrades with the latest and most modern environmental technology available (more modern than almost any other refinery in the world). Thus, their pollution controls will be among the strictest available anywhere in the world (better than they currently are), and they will directly create hundreds of direct jobs in Québec, and thousands of indirect jobs.
- Oil tanker ships are already doing daily runs on the St-Lawrence (Québec City residents see them every day, but Montréal residents don’t see them owing to the location of docking locations). The situation wouldn’t change from today’s current situation, except for the direction the tankers will take. In addition, all levels of government and private industry are looking for a much safer and environmentally friendly location for an additional export port (after Cacouna’s rejection).
- There will no longer be any need to transport oil by train across Québec (which is much more dangerous than through pipelines).
- Pipelines already cross under the St. Lawrence River and all across Québec (even underneath various parts of Montréal City itself), so in this respect, there would be nothing different from what is already being proposed, and nobody has complained before. The new pipeline would be even more modern and safer than existing pipelines.
- Current oil tankers bringing in foreign oil on the St. Lawrence are often from developing countries, and their safety designs are not as good as those proposed for the new tankers which will take Canadian oil from Québec ports to foreign markers (thicker hulls, newer technology, etc.).
There are many other arguments both Drainville and Monette could have made, apart from the ones I mentioned above. But some arguments become quite complex and technical (while still remaining quite significant). They’re not generally arguments made on a fast-paced radio program or around a kitchen table.
Regardless, Premier Couillard’s nix (a complete ban) earlier this week on any shale gas extraction within Québec was directly related to the public’s lack of appetite for running various environmental risks. That in itself shows just how touchy a matter energy and the environment can be in many parts of Québec – regardless of what arguments and counter-arguments are presented.
But what really makes things complex is that there is a large part of Québec (the Québec City and surrounding regions) which would be for the pipelines, whereas another large part of Québec (Montréal and surrounding regions) is very much anti-pipelines. There’s a lot of internal debate in Québec, and heavy-weight public personalities, on both sides of the issues, are making very vocal arguments in the media – television, radio, and newspapers (often anti-pipeline voices are heard much louder simply by nature the Québec’s media base being physically located in Montréal).
It will be very interesting to see how things pan out over the next year. I personally predict that the pipeline will be built, a much less sensitive location will be found for the new export port, but that the Federal Conservatives and Liberals will both continue to pay a political price in the Montréal region (whereas they’ll continue to fare quite well in the Québec City region) — status quo if you will. The provincial Liberal government’s own public opinion ratings (and the CAQ which is allied with the government on this issue), as well as those of the opposition PQ may also see similar political consequences shift in théier favour or against them based on a Montréal / Québec City split.
That’s my prediction, but time will tell. As usual, things will remain quite interesting.