Tar sands express to cross 1,000kms of Quebec

Canadians lack confidence in the feds’ ability to deal with an oil spill, and pipeline companies haven’t been quick to reassure anyone. But this is happening whether we like it or not.


Canadians think pipelines are the safest way to move oil but, even in Alberta, most have little confidence in the government’s ability to deal effectively with a spill.

Those conclusions came from an Environics survey conducted last fall for Natural Resources Canada, results of which only came to light after their publication last week on a government website.

The survey spells bad news for efforts by the federal government to convince Canadians that pipelines are secure.

Canadians do, however, think that pipelines are safer than transportation by rail or by ship. But just because pipelines are viewed as the lesser of three evils doesn’t mean we think they are safe, and only a quarter of those surveyed thinks Ottawa has the capacity to mop up after any major spill.

The pipeline issue is boiling over all across the country these days, from opposition in  British Columbia to the Northern Gateway Pipeline to protests in Quebec and Ontario over federal approval of reversing the flow of Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline from Sarnia, Ontario to Montreal. The Line 9 corridor runs through some of the mostly densely populated land in the country, with more than nine million people living within 50 kilometres of the 37-year-old line.

In Quebec, three of four parties in the National Assembly have backed the Enbridge project despite the lack of guarantees that the Alberta-based firm will respect 18 conditions outlined by the previous Parti Québécois government, including the sharing of information on pipeline safety inspections and emergency preparedness.

Meanwhile, another Alberta pipeline firm, TransCanada, is planning to build 1,000 kilometres of pipeline across Quebec as part of its Energy East pipeline, a 4,600-kilometre project even larger than the controversial Keystone XL project in the United States.

And what do all these projects have in common? They are all designed to transport crude from the Alberta tar sands, one of the dirtiest sources of oil on the planet.


Approval for the Energy East and Enbridge projects is the responsibility of the National Energy Board, a federal agency responsible for regulating and approving oil and gas pipelines across the country. Despite the obvious potential here for a clash between federalism and Quebec nationalism, even the Parti Québécois government was obsequiously deferential to the agency’s decision to roll right past the objections of environmental and citizens groups on the Enbridge proposal.

Why? Because the pipelines are seen as a way to cash in on the Alberta oil boom and to protect jobs in the declining petroleum refining industry. How many jobs? That’s a good question, because the PQ government claimed the Enbridge project would help protect 51,000 petro-chemical jobs in the province, although a brief submitted by the Conseil du Patronat employers’ group stated there are currently 26,000 local jobs in the industry.

An extrapolation of direct employment creation figures for Line 9 from former Ontario premier Mike Harris of 1,969 person-years, however, translates into 66 jobs per year for 30 years in Quebec, according to Rabble.ca.

Government job creation projections have a pretty poor track record and often end up doing more to bolster profits than employment. When all of the costs are factored in — from government subsidies to the cost of environmental clean-up to the effects of the tarsands on our water resources and greenhouse gas production — one has to wonder exactly how much it will cost Canadians in the end to create those necessarily temporary jobs.

But now that the Liberals are in power, it’s reasonable to expect a further greasing of the skids when it comes to prioritizing short-term employment over environmental protection.

So even after the PQ’s rather weak performance in the Anticosti Island oil exploration issue and the oil and gas fracking dossiers, Quebecers can expect the worst may be still to come.  ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every Wednesday. You can contact him by email or follow him on Twitter.