Quebec's legal action on Energy East mischaracterized, Notley says

Premier Rachel Notley says she’s holding her fire – for now – on Quebec’s plan to request an injunction on the proposed Energy East pipeline, telling reporters the legal move has been mischaracterized as something greater than it actually appears to be.

Premier says initial criticism of Quebec's move was based on misunderstanding, and TransCanada is OK with it

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said her staff has been studying Quebec's legal move closely and was in conversation with Quebec counterparts for 18 hours before Tuesday's press conference. (Marta Iwanek/Canadian Press)

Premier Rachel Notley says she's holding her fire – for now – on Quebec's plan to request an injunction related to TransCanada's proposed Energy East pipeline, telling reporters the legal move has been mischaracterized as something greater than it actually appears to be.

"It is not the politically divisive and problematic issue that people might have first thought it was," the premier said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

"This is really nothing different than we've already seen in Ontario and B.C."

Notley said her staff had been in conversation with counterparts in Quebec for the previous 18 hours, after being advised Monday about the province's planned legal move, which was announced Tuesday in a lengthy press release.

After careful review, the premier said Quebec's move amounts to little more than asserting its right to have its own environmental laws respected, in a way similar to what other provinces have already done, but doesn't include a separate process that would run parallel to the ongoing National Energy Board (NEB) review.

"It's an opportunity for local people to engage with whatever environmental concerns they might have and it informs the provincial government's submissions to the NEB," Notley said of what Quebec wants to do.

"There's been conversations back and forth that they somehow wanted more ... but it appears now that's not what we're dealing with."

Notley also said she has spoken with TransCanada and the company is "quite happy to proceed" with Quebec's process, as it is currently understood.

The premier added that she's going to "leave the gun in the holster until we're actually at the gunfight," but that's not where Alberta finds itself at the moment.

"Should our understanding of what's going on change, then you'll see a different reaction," Notley said.

Jean slams Quebec's 'short-sighted' move

Earlier in the day, Wildrose leader Brian Jean said Quebec's move will further pit east versus west.

"As Albertans become increasingly worried about mounting job losses, these types of short-sighted political games will only increase regional tensions across Canada," he said in a statement.

Jean ripped Quebec for what he described as its reluctance to accept Alberta bitumen while being all too willing to receive equalization payments from Canadian taxpayers and oil imports from other countries.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said the Energy East pipeline would 'share the prosperity of Alberta’s energy sector across our country and reduce Canada’s reliance on oil from dictatorships.' (Colin Hall/CBC)

"If Quebec wants to block our pipelines, they should send back the over $10 billion in equalization payments they are receiving this year alone and explain why they prefer Saudi and Nigerian oil over Canadian oil," he said.

Jean also criticized Notley for failing to "clearly and passionately make the case for Alberta's energy sector and our pipelines" and said it's time that the federal government "stopped playing on the sidelines and finally showed support for Canada's energy sector."

Call for national action 'sooner, not later'

Notley said she would — and will — come out with "guns blazing" if Quebec were to throw up a more egregious barrier to Energy East, but that simply doesn't appear to be the case at the moment.

"I think it's also important to know your facts and know what you're talking about, and to make sure that you don't let miscommunication create unnecessary division," the premier said.

She did agree with Jean, to an extent, when it comes to leadership from Ottawa.

"We need the federal government sooner, not later, to play its role in building the national economy and to get our pipelines built," Notley said.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr has said the federal government will let the NEB do its work and won't rush to take a position on Energy East, but noted the final decision does rest with cabinet.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday all parties share the common goal of balancing economic growth with environmental concerns.

"Canadians are united right across the country about wanting the kind of future for their kids and their communities that we know we need to be building and, at the same time, make sure we're doing it in a responsible, sustainable, environmentally sound way," Trudeau told reporters. 

"That's something that Albertans and Quebecers and everyone across the country is united in wanting."

Wall weighs in

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, speaking at the opening of Husky Energy's Edam East plant on Tuesday morning, said the company's oil extraction is good for the entire country.

"All of Canada benefits from the work you do in Saskatchewan," Wall said.

Speaking to reporters afterward, the Saskatchewan premier also criticized Quebec's move as one that exacerbates regional divisions.

"I'm very disappointed," Wall said. "It seems of late that we seem to be forgetting what's best about Canada."

Wall added that while Quebec has the right to raise questions and concerns about Energy East, provinces should not have the authority to veto the pipeline.

'A matter of respect'

Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel, however, described the legal move as one aimed at ensuring the company plays by Quebec's rules if it wants to expand an existing pipeline through the province to reach an export terminal in Saint John, N.B.

"Today's motion is very simple and very clear. It signifies that whoever seeks to build a project in Quebec must comply with all Quebec laws and regulations," Heurtel said.

"This is not only a matter of respect, but equally a question of fairness towards all companies that wish to do business in Quebec."

The move comes as TransCanada is preparing for hearings at Quebec's environmental review board next week. ​

TransCanada Corp.'s proposed pipeline project, which would carry 1.1 million barrels a day from Alberta through Quebec to an export terminal in Saint John, N.B. (Canadian Press)

On Tuesday, the company said it would willingly participate in those hearings.

"We want to be as transparent as possible and this is what we are going to do next week," said Louis Bergeron, TransCanada's vice-president for New Brunswick and Quebec.

Bergeron insists TransCanada is respecting Quebec laws.

"That is exact," he said. "It's before the courts. There is interpretation. There are certain aspects I can't talk about but it is a matter that is of federal jurisdiction under the auspices of the National Energy Board.''


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.