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Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre speaks at a Toronto Region Board of Trade luncheon last year.

Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

For someone who was once a federal cabinet minister, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre displayed an astounding provincialism this week when he announced that he and the other mayors in the Greater Montreal area stand united against the Energy East pipeline project.

The project, he said as spokesmen for the other mayors, has environmental risks from a spill that outweigh the economic benefits. "The economic reality is that it's only 33 jobs and at most $2-million per year of municipal revenue," he said in a subsequent interview, implying that, if there were more money to be made, concerns about the impact of a spill would quickly disappear.

True, as mayor, Mr. Coderre's focus has narrowed to the interests of his voters, and as a politician his eye is always on the next election. But politicians also need to be leaders, and on this matter he could have shown a lot more sophistication than he did. Instead, Mr. Coderre came across as a greedy toll collector, blocking the route for an important project because not enough of the proceeds will land in the pockets of his city – which was once the largest oil-refining centre in Canada.

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Canada needs the Energy East project. It will bring Alberta oil to Montreal and to Saint John, where it can be refined for the Canadian market. Some of the crude will also be shipped from Saint John to foreign markets. It will create 14,000 jobs during construction and bring billions of dollars worth of Canadian oil to market.

The pipeline won't decrease greenhouse gas emissions, but it won't increase them either since the Alberta crude will replace foreign imports. That imported oil will no longer have to be shipped to Montreal on tankers in the St. Lawrence River – where a spill would be far more damaging than a pipeline leak – and through the myriad pipelines that already exist in the area. A cross-country pipeline would also reduce the transport of crude by rail, which is far less safe.

Mr. Coderre and his fellow mayors are being self-interested to the point of myopia. But they are also filling a void created by Justin Trudeau. Up until late last week, the new Prime Minister had sent mixed signals about the federal government's support for Energy East, so naturally other voices rushed into the vacuum. It's a shame, though, that Mr. Coderre's was so parochial

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly said Montreal was the largest oil-refining centre in Canada. In fact, Saint John has the biggest refinery. This online version has been corrected.

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