Tony Clement says David Suzuki and other environmentalists are again standing in the way of building public support for pipelines.
The Ontario MP and treasury board president told members of the Alberta Enterprise Group on Wednesday night that TransCanada’s plan to ship oil from Western Canada to eastern refineries would be a hit in his neck of the woods, but faces spirited opposition from Suzuki and company.
“The problem is not the labour unions, it’s David Suzuki,” he said. “Groups like David Suzuki’s group are opposing this project even though for all intents and purposes this pipeline has always been there and all we’re doing is reversing the flow.”
The proposed Energy East Pipeline project would extend an existing 3,000-kilometre natural gas pipeline by 1,400 kilometres so that it might, by 2017, carry as much as 850,000 barrels of Alberta oil per day to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick.
Unsurprisingly, the Conservative government endorsed the plan after it was announced on Tuesday.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the project is in the “national interest” and will bring both jobs and energy independence.
"If we do not build pipelines, the oil will be stranded and all the potential economic benefits that would flow from that would be lost," he told The Ottawa Sun.
In September, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who vehemently opposes the Northern Gateway pipeline, came out in favour of proposals to ship oil from Alberta to eastern Canada.
“Let me be clear, New Democrats support recent proposals to increase West-East pipeline capacity,” he told The Canadian Club of Toronto.
But the proposal was met with skepticism by environmentalists, particularly after a 65-year-old pipeline ruptured in Arkansas last week, spilling thousands of barrels of Alberta oil.
In a blog for HuffPost, activist Yan Roberts suggested the West-East project was a disaster waiting to happen.
“We do not need 850,000 barrels of oil per day being pumped through our communities, our country side, our cities, or our drinking water,” he said.
Of course, this is not the first time that Conservatives have clashed with environmentalists over pipelines.
Last year, Oliver sparked controversy with an open letter in which he accused “environmental and other radical groups” of trying to undermine Canada’s economy by opposing pipelines.
“Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth,” he said.
In a twist, the minister’s tough talk actually sparked a surge of donations to several environmental groups in British Columbia.
Suzuki responded then that if caring about air, water and land makes him a radical then he would wear the label proudly.
“While an investment banker like Joe Oliver or a former oil industry economist like Stephen Harper may look at Canada and only see numbers, we see a country rich in natural resources, wildlife, clean water, a diverse population of educated and caring people, and institutions that have been built up over the years to put the interests of Canadians first,” he wrote in a HuffPost blog.
It's a safe bet that Suzuki's battle with federal Tories is far from over.