As expected, the May 12 deadline for Enbridge to shut down the Line 5 oil pipeline, as decreed by the Michigan government, came and went, and oil continues to flow. Enbridge will continue ignoring Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s shutdown order unless a judge rules otherwise.
From an amicus brief filed by Canada this week we learned that the Trudeau government and the Biden administration are in talks. A reasonable solution to any environmental risk posed by the pipelines that lie on the lakebed of the Straits of Mackinac is to expedite construction of a tunnel under the lakebed. Here’s hoping Canada, the U.S., Michigan and Ontario can get to that solution.
In a way, this is nothing new. On large, expensive national infrastructure projects, Canada has always had to choose between building and paying for the project ourselves and throwing in our lot with the Americans. It’s always complicated.
But recent failures here at home and now the mess in Michigan remind us that neither option is a good one any longer.
Mountains, plains and shield lands encourage vertical economic integration in North America: British Columbia with the Pacific states; the Prairie provinces with the Plains states and Texas; Ontario as part of the Great Lakes region; Quebec trading with New England.
Historically, Canadian governments have sought to overcome this vertical pull through a combination of blockades and inducements, such as the National Policy of tariffs, the transcontinental railway, and the hated and ill-fated National Energy Program.
In the 1950s, the St. Laurent government promoted an all-Canadian route to bring natural gas from Alberta to Ontario and Quebec. C.D. Howe, the shrewd but autocratic minister who was the power behind the St. Laurent throne, saw it as his last great project, his very own National Dream. The opposition saw it as the work of a dictator. The fight in Parliament over that pipeline in 1956 led to the Liberals’ defeat the next year.
But while Mr. Howe wasn’t prepared to risk making Ontario dependent on gas from Texas, he had no worries about sending oil from Alberta to Ontario via the U.S. He was at the valve-turning ceremony in October, 1950, that inaugurated what is now known as Line 1, from Edmonton to Superior, Wis. Line 5 is an extension of that line, built to relieve the need for oil tankers on the Great Lakes. (They would be needed again if the line is shut down.)
It would never have crossed his mind that a governor in Michigan could or would cause trouble.
Mr. Howe would also never have imagined that, decades later, provincial, environmental and Indigenous opposition would sink the planned Energy East gas-to-oil pipeline conversion. Provinces were weaker then, and First Nations had little influence.
Provinces, environmentalists and Indigenous groups also succeeded in killing the Northern Gateway pipeline. They helped kill Keystone XL. They continue to oppose the ongoing construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which was also headed for cancellation until the Trudeau government, channelling the spirit of C.D. Howe, saved the line by nationalizing it.
For those of us who believe that hydrocarbons will be an important part of the global energy mix for a couple more decades at least, that Canadian oil and natural gas are cleaner and more ethically sourced than most of the competition, and that the economies of Alberta and Saskatchewan are vital to Canada’s future and must be supported, the scene is depressing. Local opposition has doomed hopes of future energy projects, and internal divisions have so weakened the United States that it is no longer a reliable partner.
Since we’re talking about Louis St. Laurent, let’s remember that when the prime minister informed Dwight Eisenhower that Canada was fed up with American foot-dragging and would build the St. Lawrence Seaway on its own, the president knocked heads until Congress authorized American participation.
But President Joe Biden appears unwilling to stand up to Ms. Whitmer and other Democratic governors who support her, even though her actions are “raising doubts about the capacity of the Government of the United States to make and uphold commitments without being undermined by an individual state,” as the Canadian amicus brief bluntly put it.
Canada can no longer trust the United States because of its internal divisions. It can no longer get anything done at home because of our internal divisions. And that’s that.
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