Several prominent western Canadian politicians came out firing at Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre’s announcement yesterday that Montreal-area municipalities will oppose TransCanada’s Energy East oil pipeline project. The outraged western leaders were not exactly polite in their criticism either.

“He’s wrong on this one. There’s no better way to put it,” Calgary Naheed Nenshi told CTV’s Power Play. “The alternative is more oil by rail and people in Quebec know the dangers of oil by rail, tragically.”

“I trust Montreal area mayors will politely return their share of $10B in equalization supported by (the) west,” Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said on Twitter.

The 82 municipalities of the Communauté Municipale de Montréal (Montreal Metropolitan Community) voted yesterday to oppose the 1.1 million barrels a day proposed pipeline going through their jurisdictions. The environment risks outweighed the meager economic benefits of the project, according to the political body representing nearly four million Quebecers.

"We are against it because it still represents significant environmental threats and too few economic benefits for greater Montreal," Coderre told reporters in a press conference yesterday.

“Call a spade a spade: It’s a bad project,” Coderre said.

Alberta’s provincial politicians also took shots at Montreal’s concerns about Energy East. Alberta’s Wildrose Leader tweeted that the Montreal-area municipalities cannot “benefit from equalization and then reject our pipelines.” The Alberta government called the announcement “both ungenerous and short-sighted.”

Earlier this month, the British Columbia government came out against Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain pipeline project and Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan requested the regulatory review of the project be suspended. Neither announcement was met with the same outrage from politicians in the oil patch.

Some of the criticism showed a clear lack of understanding of the Energy East project by pro-pipeline politicians.

Nenshi seems to have mixed up Energy East with Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline when he tried to justify Energy East as “a pipeline that already goes to Montreal. This is a project to modernize it, to bring it up to even better standards.”

Some 3,000 kilometres of the 4,600 kilometre proposed Energy East pipeline do exist as a TransCanada natural gas line stretching from Alberta to the Ontario-Quebec provincial boundary. The remaining kilometers of pipe will be a newly constructed pipeline in Quebec and New Brunswick.

The new pipeline would be built in the northern municipalities of Montreal should the project receive regulatory approval.

Nenshi’s and other western Canadian pro-Energy East politicians’ praising the pipeline for its potential to supply eastern Canada with western Canadian oil overlooks eastern Canada’s inability to refine large amounts of oilsands (tarsands) bitumen. The three eastern refineries lack the equipment to process heavy bitumen.

As Andrea Harden-Donahue of the Council of Canadians points out in a recent article, by the time Energy East comes on line eastern Canadian refining needs will likely already be met by rail, tanker and the existing Line 9 pipeline with Atlantic Canada offshore oil, U.S. light crude as well as western Canadian crude.

“When it comes to U.S. imports, the fact is it is cheap light crude and a likely ongoing choice given refineries desire for the best bang for their buck,” Harden-Donahue writes. “This leads to the conclusion that 978,000 barrels of the 1.1 million BPD is destined for export.”

How bitumen is going to help eastern Canadian refineries has yet to be adequately explained by Energy East supporters.

Alberta and Saskatchewan politicians’ condemnation that Montreal is sucking oil and gas provinces dry through equalization payments smacks of typical ‘Quebec bashing’ seen before in Canada. It also skirts around the issue that only half of natural resources wealth is subject to the equalization system because natural resources are under provincial control.

“Despite having a higher than average ability to fund services, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland receive more in federal spending and transfer payments than they contribute,” the Mowat Centre states in a 2014 press release on Canada’s “broken system of federal redistribution.”

At the end of the day, the most diplomatic response to Coderre’s announcement from the pro-pipeline side came from Energy East’s proponent TransCanada:

“[We] will continue to listen to other elected leaders in Quebec and stakeholders across the province as we take their concerns and input seriously.”

Image Credit: City of Calgary via flickr

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