How Calgary could benefit from some pipeline diplomacy

Corey Hogan on why a war of words over pipelines won't help get things done, even if it might make us feel a little better. Why he thinks any reaction to Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre's words, was a no-win situation for Rachel Notley.

Corey Hogan on the Notley/Coderre debate

Rachel Notley, smiling, stands behind a podium that says 'Climate Leadership,' with a number of industry, environmental and Indigenous leaders clapping.
Premier Rachel Notley is in a no-win situation in the latest battle over the Energy East pipeline, argues political analyst Corey Hogan. (Amber Bracken/Canadian Press)

This last week, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, speaking on behalf of the Montreal Metropolitan Community, announced the region's official opposition to TransCanada's Energy East pipeline project that would take bitumen from Alberta's oil sands to port in New Brunswick.

Calgarians, already reeling from the collapse of oil prices and desperate to find ways to access world markets, were understandably taken aback. The details of Energy East had not even been finalized, and here was the mayor of Canada's second-largest city leading a parade against it.

The usual suspects immediately began pointing to Coderre's comments as evidence that Alberta's two-month old climate change plan had failed. Wasn't the greening of Alberta supposed to have paved the way to broader social acceptance of these projects?

And if that softer approach wasn't working, didn't it stand to reason that it was time for us to return to the old ways and take a tougher line with the project's opponents?

Where was Notley?

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall mused that Quebec should return its equalization payments if it wasn't willing to accept new pipelines. (CBC )

Wildrose leader Brian Jean thought so, declaring through Twitter that "You can't dump raw sewage, accept foreign tankers, benefit from equalization and then reject our pipelines."

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall also got on board, musing that Quebec should return their transfer payments if they weren't willing to accept a pipeline.

But where was Notley, our Premier, in this battle?

Why was she so silent — expressing only disappointment with Coderre's remarks? Why would she not also get mad? Why would she not also "Stand Up for Alberta?"

Notley's no-win scenario

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre has called the Energy East pipeline 'risky' and questioned its economic benefit to Montreal. (Radio-Canada)

Greater Montreal, of course, has absolutely no standing on the question of whether or not an interprovincial pipeline gets built. It's even debatable if the province of Quebec does.

That decision rests with the federal government, which acts after getting a recommendation from the National Energy Board.

Notley knows this and Coderre knows this.

For Coderre, "rejecting" the pipeline is a no-lose proposition: make some noise and maybe get offered something a little extra by TransCanada, Alberta or the federal government.

For Notley, any reaction is no-win. If you want to rally the people of Quebec around Coderre's position, you'll find no faster way to do it than to attack their right to hold said position in the first place.

The Justin Trudeau government might look past the objections of a mayor, but they'll find it much more difficult to ignore a riled up Quebec electorate. Quebec Premier Philipe Couillard is sympathetic to the project, but his sympathy won't be able to last in a war of words between westerners and the Quebecers who elected him.

Lashing out makes the pipeline project less likely to be completed, and Premier Notley knows this.

Unfortunately, other parties have shown far less discipline and are raising the temperature to a point where Quebecers might reject the project emotionally well before they ever think about it logically.

With friends like these

Corey Hogan argues Wildrose leader Brian Jean's reaction to the Montreal mayor's comments was 'little more than an insult,' and that Premier Rachel Notley's diplomatic approach is better suited to getting pipelines built. (CBC)

Brad Wall is asking Quebec to return equalization because of the opinion of the Mayor of Montreal. That's absurd.

Just imagine if, during the long period that Saskatchewan was a have-not province, Ontario had suggested Saskatchewan return equalization payments whenever they did something that the Premier of Ontario believed to be against their economic interests.

Worse was the response of Jean, which could be described as little more than an insult.

What does dumping raw sewage have to do with pipelines or oil? And since when was equalization hush money — forcing the residents of a province to either stifle their concerns or return the funds?

Do either Premier Wall or aspiring-Premier Jean truly believe the way you win approval for Energy East is by attacking Quebec's dignity? How do you insult somebody into seeing your point of view? How does this move us any closer to the goal of a pipeline?

A mature Calgary

Corey Hogan says 'a secure Calgary' should not react with anger to opposition to the Energy East pipeline in the Montreal area. (LipBomb/Creative Commons)

Calgarians, and all western Canadians, need to rebut calls to "stand up" by telling those who make them to sit down.

For 10 years Alberta tried the Brad Wall approach. We said "so what if our oil was dirty? It was ethical." We said "so what if there's opposition to these projects? They're in the national interest."

And for 10 years we got no closer to getting our product to market. This played no small part in Albertans electing a new provincial government.

The old way had 10 years.

The Alberta government hasn't even introduced the legislation that would make real our climate change policy. Surely we realize the new way is not a failure if acceptance is less than 100 per cent. Surely the new way deserves more than two months.

Opposition to Energy East is not a serious or well thought out position by Mr. Coderre, but you don't need to agree with him to know insulting Quebec is no way to get what we want.

Leaders of a younger, less confident Calgary may have been expected to lash out in response to his comments. A secure Calgary — ready to take its place confidently in confederation — should have neither the desire nor delusion to act so foolishly.

This isn't the venue where the Energy East debate lives. Let's not let our egos and pride turn it into the venue where it dies.

Calgary at a Crossroads is CBC Calgary's special focus on life in our city during the downturn. A look at Calgary's culture, identity and what it means to be Calgarian. Read more stories from the series at Calgary at a Crossroads.


Corey Hogan

Political Analyst

Political analyst Corey Hogan is a former executive director of the Alberta Liberal Party and currently the Chief Strategy Officer at Northweather.