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Win! Ontario government strengthens position on Energy East pipeline

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Wynne and Couillard announce their conditions on the Energy East pipeline. Photo

The Council of Canadians is pleased that Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne has agreed with the Quebec government on stringent conditions for the proposed 1.1 million barrels per day Energy East pipeline project. We see this as a sign that popular opposition to the pipeline is growing in both provinces and pushing governments to take action.

The conditions the two governments have adopted to evaluate the pipeline are:

  1. Compliance with the highest available technical standards for public safety and environmental protection;
  2. Have world-leading contingency planning an emergency response programs;
  3. Proponents and governments consult local communities and fulfill their duty to consult with Aboriginal communities;
  4. Take into account the contribution to greenhouse gas emissions;
  5. Provide demonstrable economic benefits and opportunities to the people of Ontario and Quebec, in particular in the areas of job creation over both short and long term;
  6. Ensure that economic and environmental risks and responsibilities, including remediation, should be borne exclusively by the pipeline companies in the event of a leak or spill on ground or water, and provide financial assurance demonstrating their capability to respond to leaks and spills;
  7. Interests of natural gas consumers must be taken into account.

Hopefully too this represents a significant shift from the position Wynne initially took on the Energy East pipeline.

In August 2013, sounding more supportive of the project, she stated, "I'm very open to solutions that are going to work for the people of the country. We need to find ways to work with the other provinces and make sure that we have rational energy planning across the country." And in October 2013, she told a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Calgary that she considered moving crude eastward "a national project." She also noted that Ontario has to work with other provinces with the understanding that they all share energy needs. And while she said she would put environmental, First Nations and community concerns "at the forefront," she emphasized "rational discussions" about energy policy are needed.

That wasn't a satisfactory position to us, so we took action.

– In March 2014, the Toronto Star reported, "Mark Calzavara of the Ontario Council of Canadians said it's up to the provincial government to step into the pipeline fray to ensure Energy East is safe, if it goes ahead at all. 'We just don't believe that TransCanada is up to the task and can do it safely and we're really not very confident that the National Energy Board is up to the task of regulating them,' said Calzavara. 'We have to look to the provincial government to say no.'"

– We launched an action alert encouraging our supporters to send a message to Premier Wynne. In that alert, we highlighted the threat the pipeline posed to Ontario waterways, the safety concerns related to converting a natural gas pipeline to moving diluted bitumen, that Energy East is primarily an export pipeline, that the pipeline would mean a substantial increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and that the conversion of the Mainline natural gas pipeline into the Energy East tar sands pipeline would mean a shortage of natural gas for consumers in Ontario.

– Council of Canadians energy and climate justice campaigner Andrea Harden-Donahue also participated in a stakeholders group related to Ontario Energy Board consultations and highlighted that Indigenous rights need to be central in this process, that the pipeline's impacts on provincial waterways and natural gas supplies must be considered, and that the provincial consultations must be meaningful, not like the "the highly staged, one-on-one, trade-show-style open houses TransCanada has held".

– In April 2014, we organized a speaking tour in the Ontario communities of Kenora, Thunder Bay, North Bay, Ottawa, Kemptville and Cornwall to build public awareness in the province that the pipeline posed all risk and no reward. Our key messages on that tour were that the Energy East pipeline posed a threat to Ontario's waterways and that it would spur a 40 per cent increase in tar sands production producing climate pollution equivalent to that of all the cars in Ontario every year.

– And our May 2014 submission to the Ontario Energy Board echoed the concerns raised in our action alert and highlighted that provincial leadership was required. We stated, "Ultimately, we feel the scale of imminent threat presented by the Energy East pipeline, and the abdication of the Harper government of its duties, justifies Ontario's intervention based on these unacceptable risks. In order to represent Ontarians' interests, the Premier should speak publicly against the Energy East pipeline."

Many of the concerns we raised are now reflected in the seven conditions Wynne and Quebec premier Philippe Couillard agreed to in Toronto on Friday.

While we still have a long way to go in this campaign, their endorsement of the seven conditions and the tone that sets is an important step forward in the eventual rejection of the Energy East pipeline. Furthermore, we believe that if the conditions were seriously applied the pipeline cannot be approved. For instance, given the pipeline would produce at least 32 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year, how could Wynne and Couillard endorse the pipeline when they have just promised to take its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions into account?

For more on our campaign in opposition to the Energy East pipeline, please click here.

Photo by Mark Calzavara

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