We will never again be able to accuse Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer of lacking in ambition. Failing to appreciate the current zeitgeist, on the other hand, is something of which he may be fairly accused.
Mr. Scheer was in Edmonton on the weekend to announce his most far-reaching and daunting campaign pledge yet: a national energy corridor. No, it’s not a new idea, the Conservative leader has been talking about it almost from the time he assumed control of his party. But in the context of the current campaign, and polls that show he has a legitimate shot of becoming prime minister, it’s worth examining more closely.
The idea of an energy transport passageway in Canada has been around for decades. There have been many studies done on the idea, the most recent being a 2016 report out of the University of Calgary which proposed a northern route at an estimated cost of $100-billion.
Mr. Scheer wasn’t talking price tag at his campaign event, saying that’s something that will be disclosed later.
Considered in isolation of a myriad of external issues complicating such a project, the idea of an energy corridor makes some sense. It would be a massive job creator. Under Mr. Scheer’s plan, the route would accommodate more than just the movement of oil, but gas, electricity and telecommunications as well. He imagines Alberta oil replacing that which is presently imported into Eastern Canada from places such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
But there is a reason this is an idea that has been only talked about – and not acted upon – for decades. Intra-provincial obstacles have always stood in the way. Ones that become more complex by the day.
It’s worth noting, for instance, that Mr. Scheer made his announcement in Edmonton on Saturday, a day after the largest climate-change demonstrations this country has ever known. And there was no bigger march than the one held in Montreal, where an estimated 500,000 people took to the streets to call on Ottawa to take more radical measures to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. (The Quebec government steadfastly opposes any new pipeline crossing its province).
Hundreds of thousands of others turned out in Toronto, Vancouver and a host of other cities to make the same plea. (Mr. Scheer refused to join any of the marches, while his Liberal, NDP and Green party counterparts all did).
Most of those on the streets were young people, many too young to vote now, but they won’t be in a few years. There is a new mentality in this country when it comes to climate change and the environment, one with which people like Mr. Scheer and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney are increasingly out of touch.
This is what Mr. Scheer either doesn’t understand or just refuses to acknowledge: there is not an appetite in Canada for more pipelines. The current federal government is seeing firsthand how difficult it is to get even one built.
And yet the Conservative Leader is talking about an energy corridor, and reviving the Northern Gateway and Energy East projects and ripping up legislation (Bill C-69) aimed at toughening up environmental assessments. All moves that are anathema to the urgent national conversation taking place around climate change.
Regardless of whether the Conservatives ultimately prevail in this election or not, it is virtually certain that a majority of Canadians will have voted for parties that are opposed to building more pipelines. It would be very difficult, consequently, for any government in Ottawa to run roughshod over that type of consensus.
Yet, Mr. Scheer proposed his energy corridor while sharing a stage with Mr. Kenney, who, upon gaining power, ripped up the suite of environmental measures his NDP predecessor Rachel Notley brought in as a quid pro quo to getting the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, a double-cross few people talk about.
All that said, the biggest hurdle Mr. Scheer’s proposal faces is time itself. While oil is going to be needed for a few decades yet, there is already a retreat under way as progress continues to be made in the world of cheaper renewables. Remember that University of Calgary study? It estimated that the kind of energy corridor Mr. Scheer is talking about could take decades, even a half-century, to finish.
Spending $100-billion (and likely far more) on an investment that could be obsolete by the time it’s completed would be foolhardy. While the idea makes for great fodder on the campaign trail, in reality it’s a promise that’s largely empty.
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