Don't count on Quebec backing Energy East pipeline revival, province's premier warns
'There is no social acceptability for oil in Quebec,' François Legault says
Quebec is again asserting its opposition to the Energy East pipeline after the premiers of Alberta and New Brunswick raised the prospect of reviving the project as a solution to slumping oil prices.
The pipeline, first proposed by oil giant TransCanada, would have carried Alberta crude across the country to refineries and export terminals in New Brunswick.
TransCanada abandoned the $16-billion project last year following protests in Quebec and changes to the national environmental assessment process.
But New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs told The Canadian Press last week that he would discuss trying to resurrect the project with Quebec Premier François Legault at Friday's first ministers meeting in Montreal.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has also indicated her support for Energy East as her province looks for more ways to get its oil to market. A current backlog has sent Canadian oil prices tumbling.
On Thursday, however, Legault warned his provincial counterparts that the pipeline remains unpopular in Quebec and was not a priority for his government.
"There is no social acceptability for oil in Quebec," Legault said in Quebec City. "We have hydro electricity surpluses. So I'll try to sell them."
Since taking power this fall, Legault has spoken repeatedly about increasing the province's electricity exports to Ontario. He raised the prospect in a meeting last month with Ontario's premier, Doug Ford.
Quebec's swing vote
Legault's resistance to Energy East has the potential to further complicate what is shaping up to be an acrimonious meeting Friday of premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Several premiers are reportedly upset the current agenda does not set aside enough time to discuss issues they consider priorities, including the crisis in oil prices and impending federal regulations they fear will thwart further development in the oil sector.
Ottawa, for its part, wants to discuss climate change, and invited Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to address the meeting.
The federal government's carbon-pricing plans are opposed by bloc of conservative premiers — Higgs, Ford, Brian Pallister in Manitoba and Scott Moe in Saskatchewan. McKenna said this week she expects tense exchanges in Montreal.
Quebec occupies a strategic position in this tug of war.
In recent days, federal ministers have been singing the province's praises for its participation in a cap-and-trade system with California.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Domic LeBlanc departed from prepared remarks at a luncheon speech in Montreal Thursday to say he hopes other premiers would be "inspired" by Quebec's approach.
It is unclear who Legault will side with, if anyone, on the environment and oil development issues likely to be raised at Friday's meeting.
His Coalition Avenir Québec party is considered right-of-centre, but has no formal ties with the federal Conservative Party.
The environment was not among his campaign priorities, yet since his election he has acknowledged the importance of meeting Quebec's emissions target specified in the Paris climate accord.
"I hope Premier Legault will speak about Quebec's experience, and how you can have the fastest growing economy in the country all while reducing emissions," McKenna told Radio-Canada recently.
With files from Cathy Senay