Skip to main content

When B.C. Premier Christy Clark's government rejected the expansion of Kinder Morgan Canada's Trans Mountain pipeline earlier this month, no questions were raised about the threat to national unity. When eco-friendly Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson later applauded his province's decision, it wasn't seen as "petty politics."

So why is Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre's rejection of the Energy East pipeline tagged as "parochial"? Mr. Coderre, speaking for mayors representing the four million residents of the Greater Montreal area, said the project currently on the table is not acceptable. He raised concerns about possible oil leaks in a fragile environment and said the risks, as of now, greatly outweigh the small economic benefits for the Montreal area.

The outrage in many quarters was spectacular. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall suggested Quebec might return its equalization payments if it so dislikes Canadian oil. Others presented the pipeline as a "nation-building" project. To abandon it would threaten Canada's very existence, it seems. Is this a new transcontinental railway?

Many mayors and groups across the country, including First Nations leaders, have raised concerns about, if not outright opposition to, TransCanada's Energy East project. The Ontario Energy Board, in a report last summer, was critical of the pipeline, asked that it be rerouted and said an oil-spill cleanup could cost $1-billion.

You can call it the NIMBY syndrome (not in my backyard); you can debate the fantasy-like concept of zero environmental risk. You can argue that the project is good for Canada, maybe vital to some areas.

But why is it that when the opposition comes from Quebec, it is seen to be un-Canadian?

Mr. Coderre, a former federal minister, would make a poor mascot for Quebec's independence movement (an option that touched a new low, at 34 per cent, last week, according to a CROP poll). His Liberal and federalist credentials can be detected in his DNA.

It's true that Quebec receives the most from the national equalization program, and it's true that Quebeckers like to think of themselves as greener then green, and generally underestimate the economic benefits of the oil industry for all of Canada.

But does this mean environmental concerns are unacceptable if they come from a "have-not" province? Does it mean everyone in Quebec should just shut up?

So Mr. Coderre is criticized for defending the interests of Montreal-area residents, allegedly without thinking about the consequences for the rest of the country. As opposed to other, more enlightened, politicians whose first thought is for people outside their constituencies? Please provide us with a picture of such a politician.

For now, TransCanada Corp. has done a poor job of selling the project. The National Energy Board has yet to approve it. The Montreal-area mayors are not part of a separatist plot. And if you read correctly, the opposition is not irrevocable.

When push comes to shove, the federal government will have the final say. Meanwhile, words of contempt and inflammatory rhetoric against Quebec political leaders might hurt national unity more than legitimate protests from local politicians.