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Energy East cancellation deals 'real blow' to struggling Saint John economy, mayor says

Saint John Mayor Don Darling says he is incredibly disappointed at the cancellation of the Energy East pipeline. He says it has dealt a 'real blow' to the already struggling local economy.
Saint John Mayor Don Darling says he is disappointed in the cancellation of the Energy East pipeline. (CBC)

Saint John, N.B., was poised to receive a significant economic injection from the Energy East pipeline — billions in investments, millions in taxes and hundreds of jobs, Mayor Don Darling says. That is, until last week, when TransCanada announced that it was halting the project.

The pipeline would have carried oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan to New Brunswick, where most would have been exported, with some being refined at the local Irving Oil refinery. Darling says the company planned to hire 3,716 people locally to help with the construction of the project and 97 people to operate it once it was complete. He also expected approximately $5 million in annual property tax revenue once completed.

Darling spoke to Checkup host Duncan McCue about the fallout of the Energy East cancellation and the economic struggles of his community. 

Saint John Mayor Don Darling spoke to Checkup host Duncan McCue about the fallout of the Energy East pipeline cancellation and the economic struggles of his community. 6:30

Duncan McCue: A staff member in your office told us that the cancellation of this pipeline was 'a bitter pill to swallow.' Is that the way it feels to you?

Don Darling: Yes. Here we are, a few days after the announcement to cancel the project and it still is incredibly disappointing. We face some unique challenges here on the East Coast.

DM: For those listeners who aren't familiar with the Energy East pipeline proposal, could you tell us how it would have benefited the city of Saint John?

DD: It was a $15 billion private sector investment between TransCanada and some partnership with Irving Oil here locally in our municipality. Our municipality of about 67,000 people on the East Coast in New Brunswick. We would have seen $2.2 billion in local capital investment, 3,716 people employed during the construction phase, 97 people permanently employed and about $5 million in incremental direct annual property tax revenue. And I think there would have been tremendous economic spin-off from a project like Energy East. 
A demonstrator confronts Montreal mayor Denis Coderre as they disrupt the National Energy Board public hearing into Energy East pipeline.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

DM: What are the economic consequences to your town now that TransCanada is no longer going ahead with this pipeline?

DD: Look, we're in a tough economic situation. We have so much potential here on the East Coast; we live in a beautiful port city. We only have 750,000 people in New Brunswick. 350,000 of them work. In my city, we only have 67,000 people. We're working hard to grow our economy — more people, more jobs and growing the tax base.

But when you lose a project of this magnitude, what has really struck me that over the last number of days is how heated it has got and how others have reacted.  I myself said this was an opportunity for the country to come together and we failed and I believe that is true. I see people jumping up and down at the demise of these projects — whether it's pipelines or other economic projects — and I often ask myself: 'Where do folks think the options lie?' We're in a tough economic spot and I'm new to politics and only been mayor for 17 months. I knew our fiscal situation was difficult before I even ran for mayor. We're facing a $4.5 million deficit for this year alone and we're not sustainable moving forward. So you know what's at stake here for me. 

DM: You said that this was a test of the country's ability to come together and we failed. Why do you see this as fracturing Canada's unity?

DD: Just look at the commentary over the last week, whether it's premiers or the prime minister or other mayors. I guess what set me off a bit on last week was when I saw one of the mayors in Quebec, Mayor Denis Coderre elated. I am worried about the sustainability of my city, worried about the sustainability of my province. Debts are rising across the country provincially. Debts are rising federally. We just can't stick our heads in the sand. We're struggling here. We have low population, relatively low economic growth. Every time we lose these types of economic opportunities, for us, I think it's a real blow. 
Members of Stop Energy East Halifax protest outside the library in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 26, 2015. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

DM: Let me read you a tweet from from one of our listeners Denise Galat. She said this: "I know this was a blow for Saint John. However I'm not convinced this was a failure. Can St John possibly look elsewhere beside oil?" What would you say to Denise?

DD: Everyone has their perspective, I appreciate that fully. But you've got the West and the East and provinces in the middle that won't even allow a process to play out. All we were fighting for and I have been fighting for many months is to allow an evidence-based approach in the hearings. Is it a failure? Well some some folks are going to say it's not a failure, but I think it is because it is fracturing, and it is dividing our country.

All comments have been edited and condensed. To listen to the full interview, click on the audio link above. This online segment was prepared by Ilina Ghosh on Oct. 9, 2017. 

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