Canada doesn't need an economy that is beholden to swinging oil prices

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline would be one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Canadian history, crossing six provinces and traversing 4,600 kilometres. Roughly two thirds of it would make use of underused natural gas pipe that's already in the ground, with new pipe being built through Quebec and New Brunswick.

By Robert van Waarden (guest opinion)

We hear a lot from pundits, newspapers, industry and politicians about what the Energy East pipeline could mean, but rarely do we hear from the regular people on the route of a major infrastructure project. So in 2013 I picked up my camera and travelled 4600 km from Hardisty, Alberta to Saint John, New Brunswick, along the entire proposed Energy East pipeline route.

I talked to hundreds of people and unsurprisingly, heard a range of opinions. Some supported it citing economic benefits and jobs, but many more opposed. The residents in Red Head, Saint John are facing a massive tank terminal in their back yard. People in Manitoba are concerned the pipe could blow up like it did in Otterbrune in January, 2014. North Bay is opposed because the pipeline runs through their water supply, and people east to west are concerned about climate change. In fact it quickly became apparent to me that the more people knew about this project, the more they rejected it.

The editorial position of this paper is woefully uninformed and reads more like a press release from TransCanada. One could easily pick apart all of the points expressed in last weekend's editorial (for example, why do the rights and concerns of B.C. citizens trump those of Quebecers?) but there are two glaring omissions that are more important to focus on.

One: We can't talk about pipelines without talking about climate change. Canada's recent international commitment to strive for a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees C does not leave any room for further expansion of the Tar Sands. The world sent a strong message in Paris that the age of fossil fuels is over and the transition is here. Keystone XL was canned because of climate change implications and limited employment opportunity: what makes us believe that Energy East - a bigger, longer pipeline - is any different?

Two: We can't talk about pipelines without discussing Indigenous rights. On January 28th, the Iroquois Caucus unanimously opposed the Energy East project. They join First Nations all across this county calling on the government to scrap pipeline projects. Enacting the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights and a Nation-to-Nation relationship means we need to listen. We are all treaty people and it is our responsibility to respect and honour those treaties.

We don't need a pipeline just like we don't need an economy that is beholden to swinging oil prices. What we need is economy for the 21st century. Let's start creating jobs that keep Maritimers home. Let's get to work with renewable energy systems, sustainable agriculture, and joining the knowledge-based economy. Let's provide training and transition programs for families impacted by the oil collapse. The climate crisis presents us with an opportunity to create an equitable future that keeps families together. We can seize that opportunity or we can spend our days arguing about propping up a dying industry while watching sea levels rise around our green little island.

Robert van Waarden is a photographer from New Glasgow, P.E.I.. Now based in Montreal, his clients include Canadian Geographic, National Geographic Traveller and numerous international NGO's. His pipeline project can be found at

Organizations: Energy East, TransCanada, Iroquois Caucus First Nations UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights

Geographic location: Canada, Saint John, Hardisty Alberta New Brunswick Red Head Manitoba Otterbrune North Bay B.C. Paris New Glasgow Montreal

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