Greens are the only federal party to firmly oppose major natural gas project in Saguenay
Proposed $14B investment would bring jobs, but some voters worry about environmental cost to Saguenay Fjord
Énergie Saguenay, a proposed $14-billion pipeline and LNG terminal, is the largest private investment project in recent Quebec history. But do Saguenéens want it? CBC Quebec travelled through the region to find out what's at stake. Here is the third in a series.
The Green Party is the only party in the federal election campaign openly condemning a $14-billion natural gas liquefaction project in Quebec.
The Énergie Saguenay project would involve the construction of a pipeline across a 782-kilometre stretch of the province — from northern Ontario to Saguenay — and the building of a liquid natural gas (LNG) plant, as well as a marine terminal to ship the LNG to overseas markets.
While the plant could create up to 1,100 jobs in the Saguenay region once in operation, the Green candidate for the riding of Chicoutimi/Le Fjord does not want to see LNG-laden tankers navigating the Saguenay River.
"We would be endangering the Saguenay Fjord," said Lynda Youde.
Youde said the local economy relies on the unique ecosystem of the fjord and the tourism that attracts.
Three or four tankers a week added to the existing marine traffic could turn away some of those tourists, she said.
But the impact of the project on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is what concerns Youde most.
"We really have to move toward a new greener vision for energy, and that doesn't include fossil fuels."
'Not where we should be heading': BQ
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May brought up the topic at last week's leaders' debates, in both French and English. She bluntly asked Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet to state his position.
In Thursday's debate, Blanchet said he'd wait for the environmental review by Quebec's Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement, known as the BAPE, to be completed before taking a side.
As a former environment minister in Quebec, Blanchet said, it would be "incoherent" to do otherwise, particularly since the Bloc Québécois wants the BAPE to have sole authority over environmental reviews of any project in Quebec.
Blanchet did say, however, that there is "no future" in fossil fuel production.
"That's not where we should be heading," said the BQ leader, who expects the BAPE "won't be favourable to GNL Québec — but I will wait."
The Bloc Québécois candidate in the Jonquière riding, Mario Simard, did not answer CBC's requests for comment.
Touchy subject in a swing riding
The Jonquière riding has alternated between NDP and Bloc Québécois members of parliament for several elections now.
Voters haven't sent a Liberal MP to Ottawa since 1980 — something candidate Vincent Garneau hopes to change.
Garneau, who served as chief of staff to Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said a Liberal government in Ottawa would also wait for environmental reviews to be completed before taking a position on the project.
"We want to make a decision that is based on facts, that is based on science," said Garneau.
The incumbent NDP MP for Jonquière, Karine Trudel, also wants to hear the review boards' recommendations.
But her party is going one step further, demanding the project respect certain conditions — for example, provide a guarantee LNG exports would replace coal and oil in those overseas markets.
The NDP also wants to know what the company intends to do with the LNG plant once it is closed, decades down the line. It wants a dismantlement plan in place.
"The company is selling this as a green project, so that's why we're demanding these guarantees," said Trudel.
'We have to seize this opportunity': Conservatives' Martel
Conservative candidate Richard Martel, who is seeking re-election in Chicoutimi/Le Fjord, views the project in a much more favourable light.
He said the Saguenay region is in need of job creation, and attracting new workers to the region would reverse the steep drop in its demographic curve over the past years.
"We have to seize this opportunity," said Martel.
If the Énergie Saguenay project gets a passing grade from both levels of government, Martel said he doesn't see why the population of Saguenay should say no, which would allow another region to reap the economic benefits.
"We have all the right conditions to make the project greener here than anywhere else," said Martel, referring to the region's cold climate, which makes the liquefaction process more efficient, and its access to abundant and inexpensive hydroelectricity.
GNL Québec, the promoters of the Énergie Saguenay project, submitted a first proposal to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) in January 2019, and now has to answer a series of questions from the IAAC.
The company has yet to submit its final proposal to Quebec's BAPE.