Farmers depend on Ottawa to clean up pipeline mess

The Federal Court of Appeal’s ruling that effectively halted construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline wasn’t just about oil. By extension, agriculture will suffer, too.

And when you consider that together they account for more than a quarter of Canada’s economy, that ruling by a three-judge panel had a much bigger impact than a single pipeline —which the federal government bought for $4.5 billion.

So every effort must be made to address this.

The proposed pipeline expansion from Edmonton to Burnaby will significantly increase capacity. This, in turn, would allow the oilsands to boost production without more demand on rail, allowing exports to new markets in Asia.

Oil companies move 95 percent of their crude through pipelines, which are by far the safest mode of transportation. But they are running at capacity. Currently, about five percent is moved by rail. With increasing output from the oilsands, there is more demand for space on rail, which competes with farmers who must move their grain.

As any farmer on the Prairies knows, Canada has suffered through two major backlogs in grain movement over the last five years. (The backlog in 2013-14 alone was estimated to have cost up to $8 billion.)

To be fair, oil isn’t to blame for those backlogs, but oil movement is lucrative for rail companies, and is part of the equation.

In 2017, about 23 percent of Canadian Pacific Railway’s revenue and 13 percent of Canadian National Railway’s revenue came from grain. The two companies saw three percent and two percent come from crude, respectively. It’s easy to see why rail companies would be eager to move more oil — it is a major lucrative opportunity.

According to the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, Canada exports half its beef, 70 percent of soybeans, 70 percent of pork, 75 percent of wheat, 90 percent of canola and 95 percent of pulses.

In February, the prime minister’s economic advisory council identified the agri-business sector as a major part of the nation’s economic expansion, looking to boost Canada’s share of global agri-food exports (about $34 billion in 2015) to eight percent from 5.7 percent.

This opportunity exists because global demand for food is expected to rise by about 70 percent by 2050. Canada must exploit its economic advantage in these sectors or others will.

Yet how can we do this if we have not figured out how to reliably move our crucial resources?

The situation must be resolved. The Trans Mountain pipeline is vital to the economies of Alberta, the Prairies and the nation. It is unacceptable to see Alberta’s economic potential restricted because we cannot figure out how to move crude.

The judges ruled that the National Energy Board didn’t properly consult with First Nations about the pipeline expansion and that the board erred when it didn’t consider the effect of increased marine traffic. It’s thought that the NEB took that direction to avoid activating the Species at Risk Act, which would have forced the panel to consider the impact on migrating whales.

One would think that these would have been major decisions, and that they would have got it right.

So get it right. The ruling left open the opportunity for the NEB to address these issues and submit its findings to the court for consideration. It should do so immediately. Launching an appeal to the Supreme Court should also be considered because it is a much longer process that might ultimately be required.

Back in March, we wrote in this space that tackling the pipeline issue “will require a great deal of grit from the Trudeau government.”

In the coming weeks, we’ll see whether the prime minister has true grit.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.


  • John Fefchak

    In so many ways, besides digging deeper into Canadian taxpayers pockets, the unforeseen costs
    and consequences of the Trans Mountain pipeline moving Tar Sands bitumen extraction needs to be re-examined and evaluated; money wise, and also for the protection and safety of Canada’s inland and coastal waters.
    It has been established that The Alberta Tar Sands are recognized as a leading source of air pollution.
    This, and any needed Canadian refineries require an expensive Coker unit to refine crude bitumen are also massive producers of pollution.

    The dilemma becomes even more compounded, as the Federal Government enacts it’s Carbon Plan reduction program.
    Therefore, in a somewhat desperate situation of bolstering the economy, government will nullify one pollution situation by exporting bitumen to Asia, and maintaining their commitment of reducing Green House Gases.
    That logic and program is flawed for it violates the very principles of Carbon reduction needed, through-out the world.
    “Building more tar sands pipelines will lock Canada into a highly polluting economy for decades” says Adam Scott, a climate and energy program coordinator for Environmental Defence Canada. “We cannot support any pipeline that furthers the ongoing reckless and unchecked expansion of the tar sands.” unquote.
    It is clear that government reasoning and undertaking is nothing but a social blunder that involves investors and money. It has no priority when air pollution, environment and water issues are at stake and involved.

    • John McMurray

      The rejection of the transmountain pipeline made me wonder why we do not have an environmental review of a far more damaging project. Unfortunately this project is supported by all federal and almost all provincial governments.

      Over 3 years this ‘project’ will increase in CO2 emissions by 15 million tonnes per year and permanently destroy 500 square kilometers of wilderness, wetlands, and agricultural land. We will not only be losing wildlife habitat, but also food producing farmland. This loss of undeveloped land will also increase flooding. This project will result in approximately 15 homicides and 50 traffic deaths per year. Government spending on infrastructure will be in the order of $50 billion and health care expenditures will increase by $5 billion per year. An additional 750 million kg of solid waste and 600 million L of sewage will be generated each year.

      So, what is this environmental disaster that escapes scrutiny and evaluation?
      Immigration levels of 350,000 people per year.

      Some will say there are economic benefits to increasing population but look around, it’s not working. We have record levels of personal and government debt. The increasing population is driving up housing costs at the same time it drives wages downward (so impose artificial minimum wages). Each of us has less of everything: less space on the roads, less space in our yards, less water because we have to minimize usage, less freedom because of increased crime.

      We don’t need to stop pipelines, we need to reverse policies that encourage and massively subsidize population growth. Let’s apply the same rigorous measures used to evaluate the impacts of pipelines and other large scale projects to the environmental impact of building another Calgary every 3 years.


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