Politics·Fact Check

Did the Bloc Québécois really kill the Energy East pipeline?

Yves-François Blanchet claims the Bloc single-handedly stopped the proposed 4,500 km Energy East pipeline, but opposition was widespread across the country

Yves-François Blanchet rewrites history with debate claim

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet makes a campaign announcement in Montreal on Tuesday, September 24, 2019. He claimed that his party stopped the Energy East pipeline during Wednesday night's French-language debate. (Paul Chiasson / Canadian Press)

The Claim: "If it wasn't for the Bloc Québécois, there would be a pipeline crossing Quebec. It was the Bloc Québécois who stood in the way of that."

-- Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet claims sole credit for killing the Energy East pipeline during Wednesday night's French-language debate. 

The Facts: TransCanada formally announced its intention to seek approval for a 4,500 km pipeline to carry crude oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Eastern Canada in the summer of 2013.

The project would have seen 3,000 km of existing natural gas pipeline converted to handle oil, as well as the construction of 1,500 km of new pipeline in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Québec and New Brunswick. The initial price tag was estimated to be $12 billion, but by the time the company officially withdrew its application in October 2017, the cost had ballooned to $15.7 billion.

The idea of transporting 1.1 million barrels of oil eastward every day was controversial from the get go and there was strenuous opposition from both environmentalists and communities along the pipeline's proposed path. 

For example, a coalition of environmental groups, including The Council of Canadians and Quebec's Equiterre, issued a report in March 2014, questioning TransCanada's claims of "massive" economic benefits that would be reaped from the pipeline. It noted that the country's East Coast refineries had little excess capacity and that most of the crude would end up being exported overseas. 

And in September 2014, four different environmental organizations won a temporary injunction to stop preparatory work along the Saint Lawrence River on the grounds that the project might threaten nursing grounds for beluga whales. 

The Bloc Québécois rarely raised questions about the pipeline until Gilles Duceppe returned as leader in the summer of 2015, and began to attack the NDP's Tom Mulcair for his maybe-yes, maybe-no stance on the project. 

And to say that the Bloc's opposition was solely — or even largely — responsible for the cancellation of Energy East is a stretch.

By the time Duceppe made it a focal point of his 2015 election campaign, hundreds of thousands of people across the country had already signed petitions against the pipeline, attended protests, or applied to have their voices heard at approval hearings. 

And soon after taking office, Justin Trudeau's new Liberal government changed the National Energy Board's (NEB) pipeline approval process so that greenhouse gas emissions had to be taken into account. 

But the single-biggest blow to the already unpopular pipeline's fortunes in Quebec might have been revelations in the summer of 2016, that three members of the NEB had discussed the project with former premier Quebec Jean Charest while he was acting as a consultant to TransCanada. 

The unpublicized meeting, first reported by the Vancouver-based National Observer, sparked outrage across the province and, that August, two days of public hearings in Montreal had to be cancelled after violent protests. All future meetings were suspended pending an administrative review, and in early September, the NEB members who had met Charest stepped down over the perceived conflict of interest.

When a new review panel was struck in early 2017, its first order of business was to toss out all the decisions that had been made by the previous NEB reviewers, effectively restarting the approval process from scratch.

TransCanada threw in the towel on the project on Oct. 5, 2017 citing "changed circumstances," not the least of which was the slumping price of oil — down almost $40 a barrel from when the pipeline was first proposed. 

The Verdict: False. The Bloc Québécois' opposition to the Energy East pipeline was not a major factor in its cancellation. 

Sources: TransCanada moves forward with West-East pipeline, CBC News; Energy East and Eastern Mainline Projects, Canada Energy Regulator; Energy East Pipeline Not in the Best Interest of Maritimers, Ecology Action Centre; As Energy East pipeline application nears, communities weigh risks and benefits; CTV News; Energy East pipeline benefits overblown, report says, CBC News; TransCanada work on St. Lawrence port suspended by Quebec court order, CBC News; Hansard, House of Commons; Duceppe urges Mulcair to be consistent on Energy East, Montreal Gazette; Thomas Mulcair walking a fine cross-country line on Energy East; Globe and Mail; Energy East:a timeline of how we won. 350.org; Canada to set climate change tests in pipeline reviews: Trudeau, Reuters; Quebec's Jean Charest had private meeting with pipeline watchdog after TransCanada hired him, National Observer; NEB cancels 2 days of Energy East hearings in Montreal after 'violent disruption', CBC News; NEB Energy East reviewers step down after complaints about meeting with Charest, Montreal

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