One of the country’s most influential municipal politicians said Thursday it’s time for Canadians to stop squabbling over the proposed Energy East pipeline and get to work at building a stronger oil and gas sector.
© Courtesy calgary.ca
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi spoke at Thursday's Mayor's Breakfast
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi told a packed house at Ottawa City Hall that “petty discussions” are getting in the way of the pipeline that would carry up to 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta to an export terminal in New Brunswick.
The charismatic 44-year-old, who is town for a meeting of the country’s big-city mayors, said the controversial project would create thousands of jobs and generate up to $10 billion in tax revenue while reducing central and eastern Canada’s reliance on foreign sources of oil.
“Here in this great nation, we have not achieved energy independence,” he said. “We have to get Canadian energy to tidewater.”
Calgary-based energy corporation TransCanada is proposing to build the 4,600-kilometre pipeline at a cost of more than $15 billion. It would be created by converting an existing national gas pipeline to one suited for oil, plus adding additional sections to complete the route.
The project must be approved by the National Energy Board, an independent agency that regulates oil and natural gas pipelines, before construction can begin.
Opponents of Energy East, including Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, say the plan poses a threat to the environment and would not generate significant economic benefits for municipalities along its route.
But Mr. Nenshi disputed those claims, saying Canadian energy is the safest and most reliable in the world thanks to innovative technology that is tapping into sources such as the Alberta oil sands.
The country must look beyond the United States to other markets as Canada’s largest trading partner boosts its own energy production, he added. Hindered by a lack of access to foreign markets, Canada’s oil producers are forced to sell their product for a much lower price than their U.S. counterparts, he said.
“Imagine what we are giving up in prosperity because of that discount,” he told the audience of businesspeople in a speech following the Mayor’s Breakfast.
“Our biggest customer, our only customer, is now our biggest competitor. We must find access to other markets. We need to be fuelling our own economy. We need to work together as a community, as a nation, to get this right.”
While Mr. Nenshi praised his hometown for diversifying its economy – oil and gas now generates 30 per cent of Calgary’s economic output, compared with 50 per cent two decades ago – he said Alberta’s oil sands are an “incredible asset” and a source of prosperity for all Canadians.
“As a nation, we continue to diversify,” he said. “We continue to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. But we’re not quite there. We’re going to need the oil for the foreseeable future. Leaving it in the ground is not a rational strategy. Let’s let the National Energy Board do its work.”
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson didn't want to take sides in the dispute over the pipeline, which would cut across the Rideau River near Stittsville.
“I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there and we have to do a better job as elected officials, but at the same time I think before anyone jumps to conclusions and jumps on one bandwagon or the other, let the National Energy Board do its work,” he said after Mr. Nenshi's speech.
Speaking in front of about a dozen of the nation’s other top mayors, including Mr. Watson and Winnipeg’s Brian Bowman, Mr. Nenshi also called on the federal Liberals to free up billions of dollars earmarked for infrastructure spending under the Building Canada Fund.
The funding was originally announced in late 2014 by the previous Conservative government. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Alberta would "immediately" be receiving nearly $700 million from the fund.
“Now is the time to invest in our cities,” Mr. Nenshi said. “Now is the time to invest in our country.”
Noting that Calgary alone is shelling out $2.5 billion for new capital projects this year, he said Canada’s fastest-growing cities are struggling to fund much-needed upgrades to current infrastructure as well as new projects such as roads, bridges, libraries and affordable housing.
With interest rates at historic lows, construction costs falling and unemployment rising, Mr. Nenshi said it's the perfect opportunity to embark on a “nation-shaping infrastructure” campaign.
“It makes sense to build things now,” he said. “Every city in this country has unfunded capital needs, and these are not frivolous things. These are things our citizens need every single day.”
In particular, he urged the Liberals to invest more money in public transit across the country, with a focus on light rail.
“This is our time,” Mr. Nenshi said to loud applause. “Let’s finish the O-Train. It has to happen. Our citizens demand no less. Time spent stuck in traffic is time that is stolen from the economy, it is time that is stolen from people’s lives and their families.”
Coun. Tim Tierney, Ottawa's representative on the board of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities, offers his reaction to Mr. Nenshi's speech at http://bit.ly/OttMayorBfastFeb2015.