Canada's mayors, bless their hearts, do critical work in areas that directly affect everyday lives – from keeping buses running to making sure the garbage gets picked up.
Determining national policy on energy and trade isn't part of the job, though. Mayors contribute to development decisions by airing their citizens' concerns at hearings – and those concerns need to be heard – but they don't get final say.
That reality seems somehow lost on municipal leaders in Quebec, British Columbia and elsewhere, who make a show of wanting to sink oil pipeline proposals before all the evidence is on the table.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and a phalanx of regional mayors in the province announced this week that they're dead set against TransCanada's $15.7-billion Energy East project. They say the pipeline poses environmental risks and offers few benefits to Quebec. Mr. Coderre said TransCanada failed to do its homework and, he added, was smug. His conclusion: "It's a bad project." Case closed.
Energy East, which would extend to New Brunswick from Alberta via the Montreal area, would move 1.1 million barrels of oil sands-derived crude a day. The idea was to come up with a Canada-only solution to avoid the foreign politics that eventually sunk the Keystone XL proposal in Washington, where it became a crucible for the climate change debate.
It is not known if the mayors' show was an entreaty to negotiation over local benefits, or just playing to local constituents. One early result was to get noses in the West – from Alberta business leaders to Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall – out of joint, with some justification.
Many have accused Mr. Coderre of hypocrisy – allowing his city's raw sewage to gush into the St. Lawrence last year during sewer line repairs, while seeking to block a pipeline that may not actually ever leak in Montreal.
To say that the Western-based energy industry and the Alberta government have not picked up their game on environmental issues lately would be incorrect.
At the policy level, at least, Premier Rachel Notley has moved quickly to establish a new framework on climate change, partly in hopes of helping to ease through a no-drama pipeline for her province's energy sector.
It now appears the Energy East bid won't go exactly according to plan, despite the redoubled effort to gain public approval. The industry may have achieved détente with some environmental groups and other opponents, but not all.
Ms. Notley said in Ontario on Friday that the Quebec mayors are being "short-sighted" and that denying better market access for her province's crude would take its toll on the national economy.
On the West Coast, Burnaby, B.C., Mayor Derek Corrigan has urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to halt the hearing that is now under way for Kinder Morgan's $6.8-billion Trans Mountain expansion. He argues that the National Energy Board's regulatory process is "broken" and that it is unable to adequately evaluate evidence.
Some of this stems from Mr. Trudeau's campaign messaging that the NEB's quasi-judicial panel needed to be modernized to better align with today's environmentally conscious world. Still more has to do with the fact that Mr. Corrigan has said no to this particular project for a very long time.
Indeed, mayors have a responsibility to relay the views of their constituents to the proper authorities, especially when they will be directly affected by projects.
But Canada has a national system in place that allows them to do just that, and it is run by the NEB. The board holds hearings, where municipalities, provincial governments and a host of other intervenors get a say. Then it is charged with deciding whether a development is in the public interest by taking all points of view into account. Some will be happy with the result and some won't.
The former Conservative government had been criticized, quite rightly, for questioning the patriotism of nearly anyone who would express opposing views to energy development and export.
It is now clear that the current parties in power will have to work harder to convince Canadians that things are changing if they want to improve the industry's ability to access more export markets.
Ultimately, though, such things can't be decided at city hall.