Wildrose leader’s public spat with the mayor of Montreal may not help, but it’s likely to continue

Posted on August 29, 2016, 12:18 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: Wildrose Opposition leader Brian Jean has been giving Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre the sink-eye again lately. Below: Mr. Coderre, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Don’t expect Alberta Opposition Leader Brian Jean’s public spat with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, which has flared up again recently, to end any time soon.

After all, getting up each other’s noses about the Energy East pipeline is a nearly perfect low-risk political soapbox for both of them – largely irrelevant in the case of Mr. Jean other than as proof to potential voters who favour a united right that he still has a political heartbeat.

CoderreMr. Coderre has been expressing doubts and concerns for months about the potential environmental impact of Energy East, which would have to pass through Quebec. Whether or not you agree his fears are justified, this seems like an entirely appropriate topic for an elected official of a jurisdiction that could be impacted by the line to speak up about in a democracy.

Mr. Jean – still unused, perhaps, to the fact we apparently once again have functioning democracies in Canada and Alberta – has been expressing outrage at Mr. Coderre’s “interfering” with Alberta’s God-given right to build pipelines wherever it pleases and ship diluted bitumen and the like through them.

From the Wildrose Leader’s perspective, notwithstanding the logical failings of some of his arguments, this is good politics, because it allows him to imply Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government is not employing the right strategy to get pipelines built by seeking “social license” for such projects instead of engaging in the Harperite bullying the rest of Canada had come to expect from Alberta on this topic.

The feud really started bubbling back in January when Mr. Coderre, apparently piqued at Mr. Jean’s shots about the sorry state of Montreal’s sewerage system – which was temporarily pumping directly into the St. Lawrence River while emergency repairs were done – accused the Alberta politician and his advisors of being “the same people who think the Flintstones is a documentary.”

NotleyPrime Minister Justin Trudeau had some success at the time calming down Mr. Coderre, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister. But it’s fair to say the sewage-Flintstones exchange cut a little close on both sides, and the effect was keen enough both politicians appear to have developed a thoroughgoing dislike for one another.

Now Mr. Jean is at it again, publishing a news release – widely quoted by mainstream media – accusing Mr. Coderre of “continued attempts to interfere with the world-class independent review process currently assessing the Energy East pipeline project.” (Emphasis added.)

“Mr. Coderre needs to immediately step away from this independent review,” Mr. Jean said in his release, accusing the mayor of personally attacking the National Energy Board commissioners – which isn’t really what Mr. Coderre was doing when he called for the hearings to be suspended on the grounds commissioners of the Calgary-based federal regulatory agency had met privately with former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who at the time was acting as a lobbyist for the pipeline company.

Mr. Coderre argued this created a “major perception problem” about the independence of the hearing and, whether one agrees or not, it is a position a reasonable person could take. At any rate, brusquely ordering Mr. Coderre to back off, of course, will have the opposite effect as the Montreal mayor postures for his voters.

EmersonMr. Jean revived the sewage dumping issue – which ended as soon as the repairs were completed last November – and insulted Mr. Coderre in intentionally patronizing tones.

“A politician who dumps raw sewage into his city’s fresh waterways while accepting billions of dollars in equalization from Alberta taxpayers has no right to cast judgment on the independent National Energy Board process,” the release said. “I encourage Mr. Coderre to get back to his important municipal duties at the City of Montreal and leave the business of building pipelines to the professionals.” The professionals in this case, presumably, being politicians from Alberta.

And while Mr. Jean is almost certainly right in his contention that “the science of pipeline safety will win the day” – at least, that is, on the narrow question of its safety relative to rail or truck transport of petroleum products – the political problem for Mr. Coderre is that once a pipeline has been built, it’s never going to move.

As Mr. Jean also knows well, equalization money comes from all Canadian taxpayers, including those in Quebec, and these kind of shots are unlikely to persuade anyone in Quebec with doubts about Energy East that Mr. Coderre is on the wrong track. Au contraire!

But then, that may work just fine for Alberta’s conservatives if they can encourage conditions in which the NDP’s campaign to win social license for pipelines fails.

Anyway, taking cheap shots at Quebec politicians is a time-honoured custom in Western Canadian politics that always has a receptive audience among certain segments of the Alberta electorate.

Still, it seems mildly ironic that Mr. Jean is so upset with Mayor Coderre’s “interference” in the pipeline approval process, but has no problems whatsoever with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s similar recent intervention in the provincial political process when it comes to the notorious Enron Clause that allows electricity sales companies including city-owned Enmax Corp. to pass off losses onto all Alberta taxpayers.

This represents something of a change for Alberta’s conservatives, by the way, who hitherto have reviled Mr. Nenshi as too liberal for their taste.

For that matter, Mr. Jean doesn’t hesitate himself to advise the federal government – in which since resigning his seat in the House of Commons in 2014 he no longer plays a role – on how to conduct its affairs.

Certainly, as a legislator, Mr. Jean understands this is how democracy works. But perhaps he agrees with Ralph Waldo Emerson – the 19th Century American essayist and poet who believed that God suffuses the natural world and the best way to understand reality is to embrace nature – that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

6 Comments to: Wildrose leader’s public spat with the mayor of Montreal may not help, but it’s likely to continue

  1. PIGL

    August 29th, 2016

    But but but….all transfer payments come only from Alberta, therefore the Reform Party must be the perpetual GoC by the Grace of God.

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      August 29th, 2016

      Actually, it’s worth noting that equalization payments are not fixed. At the risk of simplifying a complex issue, as a donor region becomes poorer, they contribute less to equalization. This is an important point to remind Alberta conservatives and pipeline hawks who ask, rhetorically, where Québec’s equalization money will come from if pipelines are not built and the Alberta economy goes into the crapper (as if they actually cared about Québec’s wellbeing). In a way, they can’t lose either way: they get their pipeline and untold riches ( although given the long term viability of the bitumen industry, I wouldn’t hold my breath) or they don’t get their pipeline and transfer’s from Alberta to Québec go down (just don’t tell them it already only amounts to about 1% of Québec’s revenues).

      Reply
  2. anonymous

    August 29th, 2016

    “And while Mr. Jean is almost certainly right in his contention that “the science of pipeline safety will win the day”….”

    You might want to ask the good citizens of Kalamazoo, Michigan about that contention.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalamazoo_River_oil_spill

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      August 29th, 2016

      Not argued. Read the whole sentence, including the parenthetical phrase, “… at least, that is, on the narrow question of its safety relative to rail or truck transport of petroleum products …”

      Reply
  3. jerrymacgp

    August 29th, 2016

    I want to pick up on another point, that being the pipeline industry’s lobbying with the NEB. This was clearly a tactical gaffe in today’s political climate. When will industry get the message that the only way any pipeline ever gets built, is if it not only gets regulatory approval, but that approval is completely pristine and above-board, without even a hint of industry influence. Lobbying of the Board is exactly the wrong way to proceed on this file.

    There will always be an irreducible minority in Canada that is opposed to all pipelines, period, and indeed opposed to fossil fuels altogether. They aren’t the people that need to be convinced, since that simply isn’t possible. There is also an irreducible minority that is all gung-ho for pipelines. They don’t need convincing. It’s the mushy middle, the “pipelines if necessary, but not necessarily pipelines” crowd (apologies to the late W L Mackenzie King), that need to be convinced that pipelines need to be built, and that they can be built and operated safely. The purity of the regulatory approval process is one of the key factors the mushy middle group will use to assess where they stand.

    Reply
  4. Bill Malcolm

    August 29th, 2016

    What an excellent well-written piece! Praise where it’s due. Nothing to add.

    Fifty years ago, the lack of a pipeline to the Maritimes from Alberta seemed like the usual short end of the stick that we have suffered since about 1880 in this country.

    However, sending dilbit 3000 miles to Saint John, NB so that our lord and master Irving Oil can merely load it on tankers and send it down the US east coast for refining is nothing but an exercise in making the rich richer. US environmentalists aren’t happy about the prospect either.

    Irving’s refinery is 300,000 bpd and set up for lighter uncontaminated crude, not an extra 1.2 million bpd of dilbit. Just by way of explanation in case anyone with a brain was wondering why anybody down this way was complaining about the “increased bidness”. Not going to help more than a few dozen people with steady jobs down here long term but make a lot of money for people who don’t need any more. The physical state of Saint John and the rest of NB shows that “trickle down” doesn’t work. Irving shows zero sign of having any pride in the place, just mines its forests and people for its own benefit. Looking around the place will show you the truth of my assertion, and few outside people bother as its reputation precedes it.

    Reply

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