New Brunswick energy politics 101 (or maybe 701?)

It was pretty amazing to see the widespread support across New Brunswick for the proposed TransCanada Energy East pipeline.  The leaders of four of the five main parties were lockstep in support of it – PCs, Libs, NDPs and even the People’s Alliance.    Only the recalcitrant David Coon was stubbornly against the pipe but on the grounds it would be aiding and abetting Alberta in its crimes against the global environment.

Mayors jumped on board. Pundits galore.  Business leaders and business groups.  It was like a love-in.  All our economic problems would be washed away down the pipe along with all that bitumen.

It is, of course, good news.  We know from the example of the Brunswick Pipeline and other pipes they can be a solid economic generator during the construction phase and the oil export terminal will also create considerable construction activity.

But when was the last time a mayor, party leader or even business leader for that matter came out so ebullient about shale gas development – an opportunity that could provide 50 years worth of economic benefits to the province?   The political leaders in New Brunswick are falling over themselves to extol the economic benefits of an oil pipe but, let’s be honest, the bulk of the economic benefit would accrue to Alberta.

Which brings me to Stephen Harper who hardly gave the New Brunswick economy a second look until it seemed to be beneficial to Alberta.

Again, I have no problem with Harper’s strident support for the oil pipe. I welcome it.  I would prefer, however; him to take a little more interest in New Brunswick’s economy overall.  No other province has suffered worse during his time in office – in terms of lost jobs, stagnant population and weak GDP growth.

I would much prefer Harper would come to New Brunswick and talk about how important the development of the natural gas sector will be to the New Brunswick economy.

Anyway, I love the concept of an oil pipe.  The reason New Brunswick joined Confederation was the agreement to link up Canada with a national railway (although we know what happened a few decades later with the St. Lawrence Seaway).  The national telecommunications network was a grand exercise.   An energy pipeline would complement that in a positive way.

In the end its all politics.  From Gallant to Cardy to Austin, they didn’t see any political downside to supporting the pipe while they view shale gas development as politically toxic – as do most mayors and even Chambers of Commerce.

As long as the holes are being dug in the ground somewhere else, we seem to be happy to transport the stuff through our territory.   Just don’t dig any holes here.


7 thoughts on “New Brunswick energy politics 101 (or maybe 701?)

  1. I agree with everything here, but I wonder about the benefits of Harper supporting natural gas developments. He is so unpopular in many of the segments that oppose natural gas development that I think it would only inflame their ire. Would a prime ministerial endorse convince those on the fence? I’m not sure. Though there is plenty to criticize with this government, I think its record on economic development in Atlantic Canada is unappreciated. Its fair competition for the shipbuilding contract allowed NS (and the NB-based Irving family) to win the $25B contract. It accepted the request from NL and NS to guarantee the undersea link for Muscrat Falls. ACOA and Irap funding have been essential for the recent tech boom. If the Maritime Provinces have underperformed in the last seven years, it’s probably the fault of provincial governments more than federal policy.

  2. That’s pretty specious. Muskrat falls is NEWFOUNDLAND-technically not part of the maritimes and no longer has its problems. I also don’t think ACOA can take credit for ANY tech boom anywhere. They played a part albeit a fairly meagre part, and its interesting that the SALE of Radian 6 is touted as a huge success story (not its, say, success). Directly at the feet of the feds were changes that meant less federal money (sorry, WORKER money, going to EI recipients), the closing of numerous federal departments resulting more people needing EI or leaving, as well as ACOA restructuring. If they simply moved the NEB headquarters from Calgary to New Brunswick they’d make a huge dent in unemployment.

    I don’t think Mr. Campbell said that NB’s sluggish economy was the FAULT of the feds, only that he wished they’d pay more POSITIVE attention, and thats very true. The only interest the feds have had has been largely NEGATIVE.

    As for the pipeline, OF COURSE its politics, and apart from short term construction jobs, its hardly as good a piece of news as made out to be…say by Alward spending $90,000 to advertise that ‘the future is looking great’. Its sort of reminiscent of Lord’s “we’re going from worst to first” or Graham’s “we’re on the road to self sufficiency”. What is REALLY bad is that not only does the business community buy into this garbage, but when ALL the political parties line up around it, then its pretty scary democratically speaking.

    But it does make sense. Cutting some trees and plunking down a pipe is hardly the same as fracking. It doesn’t hurt your water, it doesn’t USE your water. There are pipes everywhere, in fact lots of people want MORE natural gas pipes. And contrary to the view presented here, I think its a POSITIVE thing that apparantly the public is smart enough to be able to distinguish the two. What all these groups will start saying when and if oil starts leaking is another story-particularly if it happens twenty years down the line when the construction jobs have long vanished-like the political leaders of today.

  3. The political leaders in New Brunswick are falling over themselves to extol the economic benefits of an oil pipe but, let’s be honest, the bulk of the economic benefit would accrue to Alberta.

    A cynic might say that the bulk of the environmental problems would also accrue to Alberta.

    If NB
    a) were 9x it’s current size like AB
    b) had vast uninhabited areas like AB
    c) the messy work of resource extraction happened where hardly anyone could see like AB
    d) the inevitable pollution happened far far away from my well, like AB

    then NB’s political climate would be quite different.

  4. That’s not particularly accurate. Most of the oil and gas wells in Alberta are located in close proximity to residential homes – family farms, etc. In Texas, the University of Texas has a shale gas well right on campus (in the middle of the city) and it has generated $10 million in royalty revenue to the school.

  5. @David Campbell
    The really dirty stuff, the oil sands, is waaaay out in the boonies.

    It’s not that New Brunswickers can’t accommodate themselves to pollution, just ask anyone who lived in a mill town before they started cracking down on emissions in the 80s. On a particularly stench-filled day my dad always made a comment along the lines of “the smell of money”, and we lived a long way from the stink, he drove 40-ish minutes to the mill to work.

    Somewhere along the line the shale gas proponents didn’t manage to sell the link between benefits to the gas companies and benefits to average NBers.

  6. I didn’t see that ‘cynical quote’, but oilsands is only one part of a picture, and of course much of it is on native land, which, by our definition is ‘the boonies’, but to natives means something quite different. But thats a bit of a red herring, its TRUE, that the economic benefit would primarily go to Alberta-thats not the point. Its TRUE, that the ‘environmental risks’ would be ‘primarily’ in Alberta, but thats also not the point.

    IF there is a pipeline leak in NB, and no leak in Alberta, obviously the above is false. The economic benefit also depends primarily on public policy decisions and economic ones, and NB has never fared well in that regard. But Alberta has the CHOICE of how it develops its oil, nobody has a gun to its head, so those ‘risks’ are theirs to take. Sadly, like in most cases, its not Albertans or New Brunswickers THEMSELVES who will benefit so much as the industry.

    The final point above is certainly true, but the reality is that benefits to ‘average NBers’ have ALWAYS been peripheral in economic development in NB. The fracking industry is over a decade old and there was virtually no mention of changing ANYTHING. When Bernard Lord was announcing massive tax breaks to forestry mills for ‘technology upgrades’ there was virtually NO mention of the fact that ‘technology upgrades’ typically results in people put out of work. NB has the lowest worker to forested acreage ratio in the country-including PEI. The NB government was TELLING young people to go to forestry school at the same time that the industry was dying. Probably the BIGGEST ‘economic development’ deal in my lifetime was when the provincial government actually rewrote 50 years of law in NB in order to grant Irving a special property tax break that would cost the government about a $100 million over the life of the project. Meanwhile, like I’ve said, the provincial government told the village of McAdam to go to hell when the village developed its own ‘community forestry model’ along the lines of similar ones in BC-they weren’t even allowed to use THEIR OWN FOREST, yet Shawn Graham also changed NB law so that forestry leaseholders could ship out raw lumber to be ‘developed’ outside the province. A little more recently, an organization wanted to set up a natural gas industrial park in Sussex so that they could benefit from their own gas, and were told the same thing as McAdam. And those examples are just scratching the surface.

    Thats what would be funny about this if it weren’t so tragic. Like the bridge to PEI, guys like Mr. Campbell are going to be saying ‘wow, look at all these jobs’, just because ANY jobs are better than none, and once the pipeline is built, economists will start raving about the rise in GNP even though virtually ALL of it will be Irving’s oil. Meanwhile, I was looking at economic data, and it turns out that in the US, despite the beating that alternative energy has been taking, it turns out that there were MORE jobs in alternative energy than in the oil and gas industry. And I hope I’m wrong, but I can just see a blog post somewhere in the future when the next big Irving project comes along and there is a blog post saying something similar to the one a few days ago-‘hopefully we won’t make the same mistakes and develop some industries off the benefits of this project’. But again, unfortunately, like with fracking, the only way that will happen is from grassroots protest to FORCE government to make policies which benefit the public, and in this deal so far it doesn’t seem to be happening.

  7. “Meanwhile, I was looking at economic data, and it turns out that in the US, despite the beating that alternative energy has been taking, it turns out that there were MORE jobs in alternative energy than in the oil and gas industry.”

    Got a cite for that?

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