DAVOS, Switzerland – As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares to leave a meeting of the world’s economic and financial elites, he has a pipeline battle brewing at home.
The Energy East pipeline has pitted oil-rich Alberta against its neighbours to the east. Ontario has placed seven conditions on its support for the project and 82 Montreal-area municipalities have come out against the project. Meanwhile, the premier of New Brunswick sees it as a good source of jobs.
“This is a project that is going to help us stimulate the economy at a time when we need it,” Premier Brian Gallant said during the World Economic Forum in Davos in the Swiss Alps.
“I mean, we’re talking thousands of jobs over a nine-year period during construction. It’s also a way for us to help an industry that is very important for the Canadian economy.”
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Energy East would eliminate the need for tankers to navigate the St. Lawrence River to bring oil from Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to central Canada.
“Some times, you’ve got to do what’s right for the country,” Nenshi said in Davos.
All of this came as Trudeau rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s most influential people at the economic forum. He posed for a selfie with U2 frontman Bono and actor Kevin Spacey at a Wednesday night bash hosted by billionaire Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba.
At the same party, Trudeau said he rebuked what he called inflamed rhetoric about oil from movie star Leonardo DiCaprio.
The Liberals have promised a more robust environmental review process for energy projects, on the principle that demonstrating a serious commitment to protecting the environment will reduce opposition — at home and abroad — to oilsands development and pipelines.
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr announced early last month that projects such as Energy East, already under review, will “not be asked to go back to square one” while the government develops a new regulatory regime. Instead, they will be subject to an interim assessment process with higher standards than currently exist.
Earlier this week at a cabinet retreat in New Brunswick, Carr said the government is aware of the urgency felt by energy-producing provinces but won’t be rushed into coming up with the new rules.
Those rules can’t come fast enough — or may not go far enough — for international critics, including DiCaprio.
The actor is a vocal critic of the oilsands and used an address in Davos to call on political and business leaders to help end the world’s reliance on fossil fuels. He said those who deny climate change will find themselves economically disadvantaged and urged delegates to not allow the “corporate greed” of the coal, oil and gas sectors “to determine the future of humanity.”
“Those entities with a financial interest in preserving this destructive system have denied and even covered up the evidence of our changing climate,” DiCaprio said.
“History will place the blame for this devastation squarely at their feet. Our planet cannot be saved unless we leave fossil fuels in the ground where they belong.”
Trudeau said he told DiCaprio that “there are families suffering and out of work who need to be supported and inflamed rhetoric doesn’t necessarily help either the families or help Canada achieve its significant carbon reduction targets.”
The Opposition Conservatives have called on Trudeau to state where he stands on the Energy East line, which would carry Alberta oil towards the Atlantic coast. Conservative critic Candice Bergen said in a release that Trudeau can’t change his tune on the energy sector depending on what province he is in.
“It is not sufficient for the prime minister to support and defend Canadian oil only while socializing with American actors like Leonardo DiCaprio in a posh hotel in Davos,” Bergen said. “The prime minister needs to be clear with a very public statement.”
Trudeau said his role is to find a way to get everyone to work together, to balance the economy and the environment and get Canada’s resources to market in a responsible way.
“The role of leadership is to figure out a way forward that works for Canada, for Canadians and Canadians have been very clear that a strong economy goes hand-in-hand with a strong and protected environment and that’s exactly what we’re committed to,” Trudeau said.
— With files from Joan Bryden in Ottawa