On Jan. 23, the four Atlantic premiers banded together to call for changes to parts of Bill-69, now awaiting Senate review.
With the expansion of the TransMountain pipeline mired in red tape, is it not time to reconsider the Energy East project? N.B. Premier Blaine Higgs recently asserted that the Canadian confederation was “fractured” due to Quebec’s refusal to help revive this.
A bit of history. The 4,600-km pipeline was to run from Hardisty, Alta., to Saint John, N.B. In the spring of 2014, former Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard argued that as Quebec received equalization payments, it owed it to other provinces to help sell their products. Later that year, he and Kathleen Wynne attached a list of seven conditions for the pipeline, but then-NB Premier Brian Gallant termed these “very reasonable and achievable.”
Although Premier Francois Legault favoured the pipeline in 2016, more recently he has opposed it. This is despite the Lac-Megantic rail disaster, the fact that from 2009-2013, the number of tanker cars carrying oil eastward increased by a factor of 50, and a Fraser Institute study that found pipelines to be four times safer that rail transport. From 2013-17, the sale of gasoline in Quebec increased by 7.7 per cent — a faster rate than the entire country. Thanks to a reversal of Line 9 into Montreal in 2015, now 53 per cent of the oil used in Quebec comes from the West.
Last November, a Leger poll found that 66 per cent of Quebecers preferred importing oil from Western Canada. Also, 45 per cent of Quebec residents supported pipelines as the safest mode of transport. More recently, a poll found that 58 per cent of Canadians (including 40 per cent from Quebec) felt that new oil pipeline capacity was a crisis.
The Energy East pipeline would reduce Atlantic Canada’s reliance on Saudi oil. It would generate $55 billion in economic benefits for Canada and $9.3 billion for Quebec. All provinces along the route agree except for Quebec.
Can the impasse be resolved?
Relevant is that Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister condemned the existing barriers between provinces, and suggested that Ottawa introduce a “Charter of Economic Rights” that would clarify the rights of Canadians to sell their goods and services and exercise their trades and professions across Canada. As a “Grand Bargain,” Ottawa would recognize full provincial responsibility for health care and transfer tax points to ensure funding.
A Vote Compass poll last August found health to be the primary concern of Quebec voters, especially those age over 55. A Leger poll found that 70 per cent of respondents welcomed access to medical services offered by private companies.
It seems reasonable to allow provinces to experiment and seek greater efficiencies and shorter wait times by looking to health delivery in areas with countries with blended public/private systems. This would require amending the CHA.
For this to work, Quebec would have to agree to sign the Reciprocal Medical Billing Agreement (RMBA) so that it assumed responsibility for the full medical costs of its residents treated in other provinces.
This would be the compromise: Quebec would no longer oppose the Energy East pipeline (as long as it met the earlier seven conditions of premiers Wynne and Couillard) and would sign the RMBA.
In exchange, it and all other provinces would be granted more autonomy to experiment within their borders with blended health-care delivery — an area of provincial jurisdiction — without penalties from Ottawa. Medical tourism would be encouraged. These measures would help balance provincial budgets.
Justin Trudeau has no interest in this but Andrew Scheer does.
He pledged that he would seek to revive Energy East. According to Blaine Higgs, TransCanada CEO Russ Girling indicated that he was willing to revive this pipeline if there was the assistance of provinces along the route.
In the words of Peter MacKay, (National Post, July 25, 2018) “Energy East is a nation-building project that can help secure Canada’s economic future and energy independence while fostering national unity and helping our allies. What are we waiting for?”
Charles S. Shaver