Leonardo DiCaprio, who not long ago mistook an Alberta chinook for "terrifying" evidence of climate change, was preaching to the Armani-shirted in Davos last week about the greed of oil companies at whose feet the destruction of the planet must squarely be laid.
"Our planet cannot be saved unless we leave fossil fuels in the ground where they belong," the actor told a crowd that included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who spent his week in the Swiss Alps building his own brand – and Canada's – as a resourceful, rather than resource-full, country.
In the face of this self-congratulation and sycophancy, it takes a certain ballsiness to challenge the notions that the world is on the cusp of a fossil-fuel-free future, that Canada is suddenly a post-resource economy and that all oil extraction is inherently evil, environmentally unpardonable and economically backward.
Luckily, Naheed Nenshi was on hand to speak truth to star power. Canada, the Calgary Mayor said, is "a resource economy. Our biggest export is still energy and I do not see a path where that does not continue to be the case, so clearly we need to do what we can on market access."
There is not an honest politician in this country who does not know that statement to be true. Yet, plenty peddle the illusion to a receptive population that they are accelerating our transition to a fossil-free economy while doing little of substance to encourage the shift. They can't change the fact that there are no technologies cheap or dependable enough to supplant the internal combustion engine on a mass scale.
The opponents of projects aimed at transporting Alberta crude to tidewater believe they can change the course of science by blocking the Trans Mountain and Energy East pipelines, when the evidence suggests they will simply favour foreign producers and far riskier oil-by-rail transportation methods. They believe their cause to be virtuous, but threaten to do more harm than good.
Still, along with NIMBY opposition and First Nations sensitivities, they have made pipelines the kryptonite of Canadian politics. It's so much easier for politicians outside Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick to bow to NIMBY intimidation rather than engage in the hard pedagogy of explaining the straight line between Alberta's oil and the standard of living of every Canadian.
So it was no surprise to see 81 suburban mayors line up behind Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre last week to formally reject the $15.7-billion Energy East project that would carry Alberta bitumen and other oil grades to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick, with a portion of its 1.1 million-barrel-a-day capacity likely slated for export to Europe and Asia.
"I made known our position of zero tolerance before the environmental risks that the transport of oil by pipeline represents," Mr. Coderre said. "Let's call a spade a spade: It's a bad project."
There is no politician in Quebec willing to take on that notion. National Energy Board data show that the 73,000 kilometres of existing oil pipelines in Canada move 99.999 per cent of their contents safely to destination, year after year. But Energy East is depicted in Quebec as an environmental time bomb whose rupture would irremediably wreck the Saint Lawrence River.
Quebec business groups and construction unions favour the project, insisting that Energy East would help the province's once thriving petrochemical industry boost its employment and competitiveness, while thousands of jobs would be created while the project is being built. With Enbridge's recently opened Line 9 project, TransCanada's Energy East would eliminate Quebec's dependence on foreign oil and create the potential for increased refining capacity in the province.
That is not enough to sway the politicians. Certainly not the Parti Québécois, whose natural resources critic echoed the Montreal mayor in saying: "Quebeckers should not pay the price for decisions made for the sole benefit of the rest of Canada." Not even the ebulliently federalist Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard, who has shown no sympathy for the nation-building argument.
Admittedly, Mr. Couillard is in a corner. Separatists have opportunistically aligned with the province's politically savvy environmentalists to campaign against Energy East. But the Premier's refusal to counter their anti-pipeline rhetoric fuels Western animosity toward Quebec, which is already festering amid demonization of the oil sands and Bombardier's request for more federal money.
"I trust Montreal area mayors will politely return their share of $10-billion in [Quebec] equalization payments supported by the West," Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall tweeted.
Will this one nation-building project ultimately tear us apart?