SAINT JOHN, N.B. – A day after pitching the Energy East pipeline to an enthusiastic New Brunswick crowd, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall faces a more skeptical audience Thursday: Quebec.
Wall, continuing a swing through Eastern Canada, told an energy conference in Saint John Wednesday the $15.7 billion project proposed by TransCanada (TSX:TRP) will benefit all of Canada, will be safe, and won’t make climate change worse.
The project would transport more than a million barrels of western Canadian oil a day to refineries in Eastern Canada and a marine terminal in Saint John.
“If we’ve made a mistake, perhaps it’s that we haven’t been as engaged as we could have been, with our neighbours and our friends, with telling the real story,” he said during a speech that closed to a standing ovation.
Many of the people in the audience were from the Saint John business community and Irving Oil, who would benefit from the pipeline and a proposed export terminal.
But Wall heads to Montreal Thursday for a meeting with Philippe Couillard, the premier of Quebec, where Energy East has run into stiff opposition. Politicians, environmentalists and other critics there question whether the ecological risks outweigh the economic rewards, concerns that Wall said he understands.
“While a big part of the project is conversion, the new construction does go through Quebec. So it is reasonable that Quebecers would have serious questions about that. It’s a lot of construction in some potentially pretty sensitive areas,” he said.
“Let’s make sure we do it in a safe way, but let’s make sure we answer all of the questions that Quebecers have and satisfy the concerns that they have,” Wall said.
On Wednesday, though, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador formally declared its opposition to Energy East.
A resolution adopted in Quebec City requests that Ghislain Picard, the AFN chief for the region, lead opposition to the pipeline, both inside and outside the province of Quebec.
And it says the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People — officially adopted last month by the Trudeau government — bolsters aboriginal rights over lands and resources affected by the pipeline project.
Wall has also been at odds on social media with Montreal-area mayors who oppose Energy East.
He has said the pipeline is expected to generate $55 million in economic benefits for Canada, including $4.3 billion in Saskatchewan and $9.3 billion in Quebec.
The Council of Canadians issued a statement calling Wall’s tour of Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick “a desperate attempt to save a failing project.”
“Wall is acting as an industry lobbyist for a pipeline that’s a huge economic liability for Saskatchewan and all of Canada, not to mention an environmental and public health disaster,” said the council’s Daniel Cayley-Daoust.
In Saint John, Wall said Canada needs to reduce its dependence on imported oil and needs to find a safer way to get western Canadian oil to tidewater for export. Wall said that the pipeline would eliminate 1,500 rail tankers per day from rail lines across the country.
Energy East dominated a closed-door discussion between Wall and New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant earlier in the day.
“We talked about how the Energy East project would allow New Brunswick, Quebec and the country to reduce its dependency on foreign oil,” Gallant said in an interview following the meeting.
“We also talked about how it is a safer mode of transport. Hundreds of thousands of rail cars each year go through major cities in the country.”
Gallant said he and Wall agree that a pipeline would stimulate economic growth and there is a need to continue to promote the project.
“It’s important for us to keep going to different areas of the country and to our respective provinces to talk about how we think this will have a positive impact on job creation and the economy,” Gallant said. “It’s great to have national leaders like Brad Wall talk about this in Toronto and in Saint John.”