02/12/2016 05:01 EST | Updated 02/12/2017 05:12 EST

Don't Let 'National Unity' Sidetrack The Energy East Debate


Last January 21, when Mayor Denis Coderre, the spokeman of the 82 municipalities of Montreal 's Urban Community, said "no" to TransCanada's Energy East pipeline, there was an uproar in Western Canada.

Many, including Premier Brad Wall and Rick Mercer made wild accusations, saying this was a national unity question. There were disparaging remarks about equalization payments.

One can wonder why the same kind of verbal abuse was not also aimed at British Columbia, the First Nations or President Obama of the USA -- they also blocked three major pipelines required to expand the tar sands industry! Or are these inflammatory remarks flirting dangerously with blatant Quebec-bashing?

Despite such hostile reactions, I will rein in my feelings and try to explain why Energy East's arrogant attitude has led to its serious public relations problems.

If TransCanada wants to built its pipeline, it has to persuade the population that the benefits outweigh the risks. It must answer legitimate questions from local officials and concerned citizens.

Last fall, Montreal's Urban Community held public hearings to ascertain the concerns of its citizens on the matter. More than 150 mémoires (written presentations) were submitted at these hearings -- but TransCanada decided to boycott the hearings!

With its absence, TransCanada snubbed 82 mayors and the four million citizens they represent. This was foolishly against TransCanada's own interests, for "those who are absent are always wrong." [1]

In other words, when you are not at a conference table to defend your project, you cannot influence your audience.

The mayor of Québec City, M. Labeaume, although favourable to Energy East, is unable to accept the "arrogant and incompetent" attitude of TC. The people of Montreal, of Quebec and of Ontario have tough questions to ask.

TransCanada has to come out of its ivory tower. It simply cannot play the fancy public relation games suggested by its former PR firm, Edelman.

Public hearings, (including those of the NEB) must include such issues as the preservation of our sources of potable water, emergency plans in case of a mishap, greenhouse gases produced at both ends of the pipeline in the context of the warnings of IPCC and the conclusions of the Conference of Paris and potential economic benefits for all. Like the rest of Canada, Quebec wants a thriving, diversified economy, not handouts.

For the last 10 years, Canada's economic policy has consisted of exporting raw natural resources without refining. This archaic approach has had a devastating effect on our manufacturing sector; it means a near recession and a Loonie at $0.70.

In the 21st century, should an industrialized nation of the G8 have a diversified economy, or should it simply export raw products like a company town, leaving it constantly at the mercy of price slumps in the commodity markets?

To pit one part of the country against another is unacceptable; to inflame one region against the other is despicable! In contrast to the divisive comments of Premier Brad Wall and Rick Mercer, I appreciated the balanced debate between M. Coderre and Premier Gallant of New Brunswick.

On the screen of the popular talk show, TLMEP[2], they disagreed on the the Energy East project; however they respected each other's position. And they both demanded real answers from TransCanada.

If built, Energy East will have a profound impact on our collective future. Serious talks are essential! Environment Minister David Heurtel says TransCanada has to do more than just change its tone. I agree!

Rick Mercer and Premier Brad Wall should cool down. Harsh words and a phony national unity issue cannot replace the real substance of much-needed hearings.

Gérard Montpetit

1]Translation of a popular french saying;« Les absents ont toujours tort».

2]TLMEP=Tout le Monde en parle with Guy A. Lepage, Radio-Canada, Sunday, February 7, 2016

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