On October 11, 2014, 2,500 people from across Quebec marched in Cacouna, a small village along the St. Lawrence River, to protest the construction of the proposed Energy East pipeline. This preceded another protest this past weekend in Sorel-Tracy against the transportation of tar sands crude in Quebec and followed this summer’s Marche des Peuples pour la Terre Mère (Walk for Mother Earth ), a 700-km march that followed the route of the proposed pipeline and raised awareness about TransCanada’s plan to reverse the flow of oil from the tar sands towards Europe via a 4,500-km, aging pipeline. It’s fair to say that opposition to Energy East is mounting in Quebec — and this is just the beginning.

What is the Energy East pipeline project?

The Energy East project is proposed by TransCanada Pipelines Ltd., the same corporation that has been pushing to build the Keystone XL pipeline through the U.S. and western Canada. Currently, a 40-year-old pipeline exists that carries European natural gas to Southern Ontario. The idea is to first reverse the flow of the existing gas pipeline, which is not appropriate for bitumen because it is more viscous than natural gas. The downright irresponsible proposal to reverse the flow with the thick tar sands bitumen is risky in itself. TransCanada also hopes to build hundreds of kilometres of new infrastructure in order to flow 1.1 million barrels of tar sands crude oil (per day!) towards European markets.For those who argue that tar sands provide some kind of “local” energy, the Energy East pipeline, which follows in the footsteps of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project and TransCanada’s own Keystone XL, is only “local” in that it is extracted from Alberta. Otherwise, the value-added refinery jobs, as well as the use of the bitumen, are reserved for other nations.

The proposed pipeline is slotted to end in two different ports, one in Saint John, New Brunswick and the other in Cacouna, Quebec. Situated in the St. Lawrence estuary, Cacouna is a well-documented traditional birthing site for belugas, which use the fertile waters from spring through autumn. It is also a tourist destination, with a beautiful and popular national park directly across the river from the small town.

Although the pipeline has not yet been approved, TransCanada began boring this summer in order to develop a maritime terminal in Cacouna. This has led to much opposition across the province.

Are governments playing by their own rules?

Because the proposed pipeline would pass through multiple provinces, it falls in both federal and provincial jurisdictions. Quebec’s Liberal government led by Premier Philippe Couillard approved TransCanada’s request to bore in the seabed of the St. Lawrence despite the fact that crucial documents required to complete an environmental assessment were not provided. Despite the mobilization of thousands against the creation of this maritime port, work only paused after the Quebec Superior Court judged the process to be irregular and ordered Quebec to impose an injunction on the construction. To this date, neither the National Energy Board (NEB) nor the provincial government have completed any of the required environmental assessments.

The National Energy Board, Canada’s regulatory body for energy projects, has not yet begun assessing the impacts of Energy East. Indeed, the foraging in Cacouna has been deemed “necessary” by Premier Couillard in order to gain information about the seabed- information needed for the NEB to begin its environmental evaluations. As scientists have proven, the act of boring is in itself destructive for the local ecosystem. One can only imagine the impacts of a full-fledged maritime port combined with the comings and goings of ocean-liners transporting Tar sands bitumen through the environmentally sensitive waters of the St. Lawrence and across the Atlantic Ocean.

Unfortunately, there is hardly any doubt that the port construction will soon resume with the support of the federal and provincial governments, no matter what the conclusions of the environmental assessments are. This is why we need to continue to speak up, continue to write letters, to take to the streets and join different citizen groups in requiring that governments carefully examine every project in a fair and transparent way. As with Bill C-38, the federal government has proven in the past few years that environmental laws and regulations will be changed or ignored when big money is at stake. In the case of Quebec, the provincial Minister for the Environment claimed to “not have been aware” that TransCanada had begun boring for its maritime terminal in Cacouna, although it had been in the headlines for more than a month. Despite growing opposition to such projects, Premier Couillard recently exonerated Quebecers to play their part in the Canadian economy by helping tar sands oil reach foreign markets. On September 24, an enormous tanker carrying 700,000 barrels of tar sands crude left from the port of Sorel-Tracy towards Europe. The disturbing nonchalance with which our governments trade our land, water, and air for profits is something we all have a responsibility to condemn.

Beyond physical reasons such as the loss of species, potential spills and no environmental assessment, the question that must be asked of all Quebecers — and all Canadians — is how valuable do we consider the expansion of the tar sands market to be? Is this something we want to have promoted in our name? Couillard and Harper believe so, but we believe that the growing opposition to large-scale extraction projects across Canada proves otherwise. We deserve better.

Note: Just last week, TransCanada finally submitted its 30,000 page (yes, 30,000 pages) application to the NEB. What will this mean for the environmental assessments? Stay updated on the project!

Follow Alex Cool-Fergus on Twitter at @alexcoolfergus

Take action:

  • Send us your thoughts on climate change and what our governments should be doing to fight it! Email videos or pictures to [email protected] or upload directly onto your personal accounts with the hashtag #WeDeserveBetter

  • Ask your student union to join the Étudiantes et Étudiants Contre les Oléoducs (Students Against Pipelines Coalition) here 

  • Join the Council of Canadians on their Atlantic tour against Energy East. Info about the tour can be found here

  • 350.org has an online petition urging PM Harper to consider public opinion relating to the Energy East pipeline here

  • Keep updated on the struggle against Energy East!