Lawmakers Trade Barbs Over TransCanada's Energy East Pipeline

  • Conservatives call on Trudeau to voice support for project
  • Quebec mayors declare their opposition, angering Alberta

Canadian lawmakers sparred Monday over energy infrastructure amid concern that growing political opposition will derail TransCanada Corp.’s Energy East pipeline.

On parliament’s first day back after a six-week break, the opposition Conservative Party called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to express support for the pipeline, which would carry Alberta oil to the Atlantic Coast.

The political debate over North America’s largest pipeline proposal is intensifying after a group of mayors from Quebec led by Montreal’s Denis Coderre declared their opposition last week, arguing the environmental risks outweigh the economic benefits. That triggered a backlash from western Canadian leaders including Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who called their point of view “short-sighted.”

The issue dominated much of parliamentary debate in Ottawa.

“The Prime Minister should stop using his cellphone for selfies with Leo DiCaprio, pick it up and call Denis Coderre and fight for natural resources,” Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose said in the legislature, referring to Trudeau’s meeting with Leonardo DiCaprio at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week.

Without mentioning the project explicitly, Trudeau said his Liberal government is working “very hard” with municipal and provincial leaders to get the nation’s resources to market and won’t take any lessons from the Conservatives, who failed to win social backing for pipeline projects when they were in power.

Political Criticism

“It’s interesting,” the prime minister said, “that the members opposite are criticizing us for not getting done in 10 weeks what they were unable to do in 10 years.” Trudeau, who came to power in November, later told reporters he had scheduled a meeting with Coderre, a former Liberal lawmaker.

The export conduit, which would carry oil-sands crude from Alberta through six provinces before reaching the Atlantic Coast, is among four major Canadian pipeline projects hampered by resistance. TransCanada’s Keystone XL and Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Trans Mountain expansion are also facing mounting hurdles, while Trudeau’s plans to ban tanker traffic on British Columbia’s northern coast are a major blow to Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway proposal.

TransCanada is fighting the U.S. government in court and in front of North American Free Trade Agreement arbitrators over President Barack Obama’s November rejection of Keystone XL.

Rising Costs

Last month, Calgary-based TransCanada raised the estimated price of Energy East by almost a third to C$15.7 billion ($11 billion) because of changes such as scrapping a marine terminal in Quebec after communities rallied against the facility. The company has made almost 700 route changes to the original design of the project, which would transport 1.1 million barrels a day to refineries in eastern Canada and customers outside the country as early as 2020.

Trudeau’s cabinet is working on transition plans for existing pipeline proposals such as Energy East, as it moves to strengthen environmental review laws.

“We are committed to developing this sector in a responsible way because we understand there are tens of thousands of people who are now suffering because of low commodity prices,” Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said in the legislature.

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