It’s been a bad few months for Canadian pipeline proposals. U.S. President Barack Obama closed the door on Keystone XL; the B.C. government announced it couldn’t support the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in its current form; and Montreal-area mayors have called Energy East too risky.
Among politicians, stopping pipeline development has become a way to look green without having to make unpopular choices at home. President Obama named climate change as one of his reasons for rejecting Keystone XL. Yet if he wanted to remove the equivalent of all the greenhouse gases generated by the oilsands from the atmosphere, he would only have to shut down three large coal-fired power plants right in his own backyard.
The belief that the cost of denying these pipelines will largely fall on folks in faraway places is undoubtedly part of the political calculus for many politicians. But for Canadians, it is a dangerously false assumption.
The pipeline debates are throwing up red flags about Canada’s ability to get large projects done.
Canadians demand a rigorous approval system, strong environmental regulation, stringent safety controls and proper consultation with communities and indigenous peoples. Regulators and stakeholders have an absolute right to ask questions about a project’s potential impacts and to receive detailed answers from the companies looking to build these pipelines.
However, good governance of infrastructure projects also means having a process in place that is efficient and predictable. Decisions must be made within a reasonable timeframe, or else opportunities will pass us by.
Good governance does not mean adding additional hurdles at the last minute, like the federal government applying an additional climate test to the Trans Mountain pipeline after the National Energy Board's review process is almost complete.
Good governance means that governments must be actively involved in dealing with issues that are outside the power of any one business — issues like marine safety and reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
The result of decision-making processes should reflect what evidence has proved to be in the national interest over the long run and not what is politically expedient at the moment. Let’s not make the mistake of confusing a fair process with one that is uncontroversial.
It is increasingly clear that our decision-making process is broken. Anyone who thinks that it is only about the oil and gas sector is mistaken. Wind and solar farms, electrical generation and transmission, rail infrastructure, port expansions, public transit: all of these developments face passionate opposition from some segment of the population.
In the face of governments’ inability to make controversial decisions, global business will simply decide that Canada is not worth the trouble. I’ve already been hearing these murmurs from my contacts in Canada’s diplomatic community and my members in large international companies.
When global businesses sit down and decide where to invest, the uncertainty and overly politicized nature of Canada’s environmental regulatory processes is a strike against us. The world needs energy and other natural resources, and does not much care whether they come from Canada or somewhere else.
The pipeline debate is about more than just the oil and gas sector in more ways than one. Allowing the merits of an individual project to take second place to the symbolic value of opposing them is hurting Canada’s competitiveness in the global economy, and that hurts all Canadians.
The Honourable Perrin Beatty is the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canada’s largest and most representative national business association.
Mr. Beatty grew up in Fergus, Ontario. In 1972 he was elected to the House of Commons and in 1979 he was appointed to the first of seven ministerial portfolios. He went on to be President and CEO of the CBC and later, President and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters. He joined the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in 2007.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is the vital connection between business and the federal government. It helps shape public policy and decision-making to the benefit of businesses, communities and families across Canada with a network of over 450 chambers of commerce and boards of trade, representing 200,000 businesses of all sizes in all sectors of the economy and in all regions. News and information are available at Chamber.ca or follow us on Twitter @CdnChamberofCom.
G. Will Dubreuil
Director, Public Affairs and Media
Canadian Chamber of Commerce