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Pipeline politics has been on the uptick in recent years — from sit-ins outside the White House to canoe flotillas, days of actions, legal challenges, rallies, numerous reports, blockade, town halls, letters and petitions.

The federal election is no exception.’s call to birddog federal leaders has seen a number of gatecrashers holding climate and tar sands signs at Harper, Trudeau and Mulcair events. Most recently, Yan, a local North Bay activist rubbed shoulders with Harper (literally) before unveiling a Water not Harper shirt (a spill from Energy East would devastate North Bay’s drinking water).  

These efforts are effectively challenging and stalling tar sands export pipeline projects, with big-name corporations scrambling to repair their image and seek social license. At the heart of this opposition are three core concerns: respecting Indigenous rights including the right to say no, the threat of a tar sands diluted bitumen spill in water, and the climate implications of tar sands expansion.

Here is where the federal parties stand on four major proposed tar sands export pipelines.

TransCanada Energy East

The biggest pipeline proposed yet, carrying 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) and spanning six provinces. The pipeline would transport oil including tar sands crude from Alberta and Bakken fracked crude to a new export port in the Bay of Fundy. TransCanada was forced to drop their controversial Cacouna port located beside a beluga habitat, pushing their construction start times back to 2017, with the project operational by 2020. The pipeline crosses over 1,000 waterways including the drinking water sources for millions of Canadians. Filling the pipeline threatens to unleash 30 to 32 million tonnes of carbon pollution every year and an up to 40 per cent increase in tar sands production. 

Conservatives: Support all pipeline projects getting tar sands crude to market. Under the Harper government, the 2012 omnibus budget bill dramatically weakened environmental laws, including shifting pipeline reviews to the industry-friendly National Energy Board, and making them more restrictive. These changes mirror the lobbying demands of the energy industry as revealed in documents obtained through freedom of information legislation.  Harper has endorsed Energy East, pending National Energy Board approval. 

NDP: The NDP tabled, and was the only party to bring forward and support a motion against the controversial Cacouna oil export port. Mulcair has vocally supported the concept of west-to-east pipelines, which initially had media suggesting the NDP supported the project. Mulcair and the NDP have since emphasized the failures of the current pipeline review process and a need for projects like Energy East to be evaluated fairly. This has led to some confusion as captured in this Richochet article. Most recently, Mulcair stated projects like Energy East would not be approved under the current NEB process, leading to questions of how this could impact TransCanada’s current application. Mulcair has stated the new review process (we await details in the platform) would include an evaluation of their climate impacts. As highlighted by Greenpeace’s Keith Stewart, Mulcair has further said projects like Energy East must be proven compatible with Canada’s commitments for climate pollution reductions. This is significant and a project-killer for Energy East, which would dramatically increase tar sands production. This is incompatible with our current climate commitments (see below for more on this). 

Liberals: Trudeau and the Liberal party are also walking a fine line on Energy East. Trudeau emphasizes the need to get Canadian oil to market, including by pipeline. He has also said that Energy East has failed to earn social license to operate in Quebec. The Liberal platform outlines a number of changes they would make to “restore credibility to the environmental review process.” This includes assessing climate impacts, but as Keith highlights, this is not directly linked to an overall climate pollution reduction plan. It also remains unclear to what extent these changes proposed in their platform would impact existing projects like Energy East that have already been filed with the NEB. 

Stay tuned for further potential changes from the Liberals and NDP on Energy East during the election. The majority of Quebec residents are against the project and Quebec is a hotly contested battle ground for both parties.

Green Party: Oppose all tar sands export pipeline projects transporting unrefined diluted bitumen. In favour of upgrading and refining in Canada of existing tar sands production. 

Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion

Project that would see the existing Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to B.C. coast expand from 300,000 bpd to 890,000 bpd. It would add new pipeline alongside the existing 60-year-old pipeline, carrying bitumen through areas including Jasper National Park, across the Vedder Fan aquifer and potentially see a supertanker loaded every day at the Burrard Inlet marine terminal.  It would add an additional 13.4 million tonnes of climate pollution every year 

Conservatives:  Same as Energy East position. Additionally, Harper has reportedly lobbied support for the project in B.C. 

NDP: Like Energy East, Mulcair’s older statements refused to reject the project proposal, and emphasized his support for getting western crude to international markets. More recently, Mulcair confirmed that no project currently under review, including Kinder Morgan, would be approved by an NDP government under the existing flawed NEB process. This has the potential to force delays. Burnaby South NDP candidate Kennedy Stewart is vocally opposed to the project.

Liberals: Trudeau has previously suggested he would like to see the Kinder Morgan project approved with the caveat that it must secure social license. More recently, the Liberals emphasis appears to be more on the changes they would bring to the regulatory process for pipeline projects. Their platform remains unclear in the extent to which these changes would impact existing projects like Kinder Morgan.

Green Party:  See Energy East position. Additionally, the Green Party supports a legislated ban of supertankers on B.C. coast. Lynne Quarmby, local candidate in Burnaby-North Seymour was a prominent participant in the protests which saw more than 100 (Quarmby included) arrested in a direct action, stopping survey work for the project.

Enbridge Northern Gateway

The Enbridge Northern Gateway project involves two pipelines. One pipeline would ship 525,000 barrels of oil daily from Alberta to the coastal community of Kitimat. The other pipeline would move 193,000 barrels a day of condensate, which is used to dilute tar sands bitumen so it can flow through the pipelines, to Alberta. The NEB approved the project subject to 209 conditions, and the Harper government has approved the project. While approved, the project faces a serious uphill battle including legal challenges, with many speculating the project is dead. Upstream tar sands emissions from filling the pipeline would produce an additional 6.5 million tonnes of carbon pollution every year. 

Conservatives: Same as Energy East position. Additionally, Harper’s cheerleading for the project is so extreme, even the Globe and Mail has said it has backfired, hurting the project’s prospects. Harper approved the project in June 2014

NDP: Mulcair has stated an NDP government would “set aside” the approval of the project, noting the clear opposition of 130 First Nations and problems with the flawed environmental review process for pipelines. The NDP introduced a bill that would formalize a ban on crude oil tanker traffic in northern B.C. which also calls for more refining of oil in Canada. 

Liberals: Trudeau has promised a Liberal government would reject the Enbridge Northern Gateway project approval because of threat increased tanker traffic poses to the ocean economy and clear opposition from First Nations and B.C. residents. Trudeau has also said he would formalize a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic through northern B.C.’s coast. 

Green Party: See Kinder Morgan position.

TransCanada Keystone XL

Project to carry 800,000 bpd of Alberta tar sands crude to U.S Gulf Coast refineries and export ports, including crossing the important Ogallala aquifer. President Obama is expected to deny the permit for Keystone XL imminently. The project threatens to unleash 22.4 million tones of climate pollution every year. 

Conservatives: The Harper government has aggressively lobbied for the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. This has included such actions as using $24 million of taxpayers’ funds on an ad campaign promoting the project and targeting close to 300 legislators, academics, labour and industry associations with their pipeline pitch. 

NDP: The NDP is opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline. The export pipeline is seen as a lost opportunity to retain potentially well paid jobs in Canada, adding value to oil before exporting it, through Canadian upgrading and refining. 

Liberals: Trudeau has been an outspoken advocate of the Keystone XL project. He has emphasized its benefits for both the Canadian economy, providing needed energy infrastructure and spurring American jobs. 

Green Party: See Kinder Morgan position.

Why oppose tar sands export pipelines?

To protect our waterways.

The Kalamazoo spill was a wake-up call for understanding the impacts of a tar sands diluted bitumen spill in water. While TransCanada and others suggest otherwise, diluted bitumen has a nasty tendency of the toxic diluents separating (impacting local air quality) from the heavy bitumen, which sinks and sticks to the riverbed making full clean up near impossible.

For more information: Science vs Spin: Dilbit Sinks in the Real World, But Not in Studies Funded by Oil Industry Bitumen spill effects on waterways, oceans unknown, draft federal report says Energy East: Where oil meets water 

To respect Indigenous rights.

130 First Nations oppose both the Northern Gateway and TransMountain expansion. A growing number of First Nations along the Energy East pipeline are increasingly raising concerns about a failure to consult, as well as rejecting the project itself. At the source, there are a number of significant Indigenous lawsuits underway that could dramatically affect tar sands expansion. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights on Indigenous Peoples recognizes the right to free, prior, informed consent, this includes the right to say no. 

To stop tar sands expansion.

The climate case against tar sands pipelines is clear. Production sits around two million bpd. Industry has announced ambitions to tap six million bpd, five million already has Alberta and federal approval. Further expansion of the tar sands is incompatible with any responsible plan tackling climate change. According to leading scientists, 85 per cent of Canada’s tar sands needs to stay in the ground if we are to avoid the worst of climate change.

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