Let's get serious on energy in Quebec

By Beryl Wajsman on October 15, 2018

Premier-elect François Legault has said over and over again that he wanted to be known as the "business premier." His platform calls for a large reduction in the bureaucracy, less bureaucratic forms, more ways to attract out-of-province investors and lower taxes. We can think of no better priority for him to commence his mandate on. And we can think of no better area to start his program than in energy. It is time for Quebec to get serious on its energy potential.

The time is very propitious. The previous government's failure to move on the Energy East pipeline has still left Quebec dependent on foreign oil. It costs taxpayers millions. canada spends $39 million a day - a day - on foreign oil purchases and Quebec makes up a great deal of that. Indeed, Quebecers not only pay higher gaz prices because of that, but we are also purchasing from some less than stellar governments like Venezuela. Completing a pipeline would also protect us from disasters like Lac Megantic because so much of our oil is brought by train from Maine. The environmentalists who feared the pipeline, must be reminded again that there were not one but two redundacy systems in that pipeline to protect against any leaks. It would bring tens of millions of dollars into Quebec, create thousands of jobs and save Quebecers millions at the pumps.

The issue of the pipeline has come up again because of two matters that have arisen at the Federal level. Ottawa's disastrous handling of the Trans-Mountain pipeline that has cost Canadians billions and the carbon tax issue. Over the past month, a number of premiers and potential premiers are saying "no" to the "made-in-Ottawa" carbon tax and have formed an informal alliance. New Brunswick PC Leader Blaine Higgs -- who would become premier if Liberal Premier Brian Gallant razor thin plurality government falls, said  "I am absolutely not going to impose a carbon tax, and I’ve said that through the process that I would work with the other provinces to fight the federal government in this regard." Higgs joins Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, and Alberta UCP Leader and premier-hopeful Jason Kenney in their open opposition to the Trudeau government’s plan. Even Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley has promised not to support the carbon tax plan until the Trans Mountain pipeline problem is resolved.  Carbon tax  pass-throughs by the companies hit with these taxes will cost the average driver $300 a year at the pumps and the average household $1250 a year. All this damage for a country that produces only 2% of the world's emissions while China continues to do what it wants. If M. Legault wants to find a business issue to start off his mandate, and make it clear that he will protect Quebec's interests vis-a-vis Ottawa within a united Canada, there could be no better file than energy. Not only is it the right thing to do, it puts him into an alliance with half the premiers of the country.

Another major initiative that can get Quebec moving, and meet M.Legault's objective, is natural gas. Even the feds when clamping down on Trans-Mountain, have gone ahead with plans to build a liquid natural gas plant. M. Legault has said he wants non-Quebecers to invest here. The natural gas industry has produced a leader for M. Legault's vision. Over much of the past decade Calgary's Michael Binnion and his Questerre Energy group have led a consortium assembling millions of hectares of land where they have proven that there are reserves of clean naural gas that could give Quebec thousands of jobs, millions in tax revenues, and save Quebecers more on their energy bills. It is estimated that there are over 4 trillion cubic feet of deposits. Binnion and his associates want no government money.  Yet the Couillard administration tied them up in regulations that contradict its own Hydrocarbon Act of 2016 because there has been opposition to the fracking that would be necessary to extract the gas. Yet fracking has been going on in Alberta and BC for nearly 60 years with only one incident. And Montreal's Gaz Met buys all of its natural gas from fracked fields in the Utica Shale and the Marsellus Shale in the United States. So why are we exporting Quebec dollars for the benefit of American producers then making a profiit on top of that off the backs of Quebecers when we could have a home-grown industry led by exactly the type of independent entrepreneurs M. Legault and business leaders want? Binnion is so committed to Quebec despite the bureaucratic frustrations that he learned French, got an apartment in Montreal for a time and has assumed the presidency of the Oil and Gas Association of Quebec having taken over from no less than Lucien Bouchard.

Ford, Pallister and Higgs are also in agreement with Tory leader Andrew Scheer on getting Energy East moving again and on natural gas.  Higgs said that with this week’s election of the Coalition Avenir Quebec and Francois Legault in Quebec it’s a good opportunity to try to get Trans Canada back to the table in hopes of reviving the Energy East pipeline project. He said if he eventually ends up in the premiership, he'd be looking to sit down with Legault to chat. Legault and Ontario's Premier Doug Ford already have a meeting schduled. This is the time to act.

M. Legault reminded voters during the election that Quebec’s finances only appear healthy because we receive $11 billion in equalization payments under the current regime.  That's some 65% of all transfers. Our $2 billion budget surplus would really be a $9 billion deficit if we did not have the generosity of the rest of Canada to fall back on.  What better way to solve this than getting serious on energy.


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Beryl P. Wajsman

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