Kevin O’Leary proposal for a national referendum on pipelines impractical, impossible, inefficient and just plain dumb
A national referendum on pipelines? If Kevin O’Leary pitched this ridiculous idea to his old reality show, CBC’s the Dragon Den, the investors would be “out” before the end of the sales presentation.
O’Leary – still hinting he might run for the Conservative Party leadership – floated the referendum idea Wednesday in a Huffington Post blog that is mostly a bumbling rant about the need to get Canada’s crude oil to tidewater or Eastern Canadian markets, where it can sell at a higher price than in American markets.
That basic idea is fine, but the post is full of errors and misunderstandings about how the Canadian pipeline review process works.
In the interest of brevity, I’ll address just five.
1. “I have come to the conclusion that this decision is too important to leave in the hands of short-sighted federal, provincial and municipal politicians.”
Pipeline decisions are left in only one set of hands: the Canadian government.
Section 92 of the Canadian Constitution gives Ottawa the full and exclusive authority over inter-provincial “works.” Supreme Court of Canada precedent reaching back to 1954 confirms that authority.
And the legal principle of “primacy” prevents provincial or municipal governments from doing anything whatsoever that “impairs” federal authority. Premier Christy Clark can’t raise BC Hydro rates for Trans Mountain Expansion to make that pipeline uneconomic nor can Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre deny City of Montreal building permits for Energy East, TransCanada’s proposed 1.1 million b/d pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick.
Even if Canada held the “Canadian Oil Pipeline Referendum (COPR),” as O’Leary grandiosely calls it, the National Energy Board would still have to review the technical merits of the project and the Federal Cabinet would still have to grant final approval.
Which is exactly the same process Canada has now.
O’Leary needs to explain how a referendum on top of the existing review will speed up a possible Energy East approval? Hint: That’s a rhetorical question. And if Kevin O’Leary reads this, a rhetorical question
2. O’Leary also seems to think Canadian leaders are too dim to recognize the need for pipelines. I recently interviewed Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, the Canadian government’s point man for pipelines and the NEB.
“The prime minister has said many times that it’s a major responsibility of the government of Canada to move our natural resources to market sustainably,” Carr said. “You can quote the prime minister from the global conference in Vancouver when he said that there’s no contradiction in building wind turbines and pipelines, we need both.”
That message is so clear that I’m not sure even O’Leary could miss it.
3. O’Leary asks why “the majority of Canadians who still use oil oppose a domestic pipeline that eliminates their dependency on foreign supply?”
The short answer is, they don’t.
A March public opinion poll from Angus Reid shows that 64% of Canadians support Energy East.
A quick Google search revealed this information. Will somebody please introduce O’Leary to the mysteries of Google?
4. “We need a decision on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain ASAP…”
The Trudeau Government will announce its decision in December, a mere three months from now. Are Canadians in that much of a rush to build a pipeline they can’t give Cabinet a few more months for careful deliberation of reports and recommendations?
“ASAP” seems like a rash way to approach multi-bilion dollar investment decisions.
5. “Anyone watching the National Energy Board hearings knows this has turned into a circus and Canadians’ work is not getting done.”
Sadly, eco-activists have tried to break the Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain Expansion reviews using a tactic called “Keystoning.” Think of it as the Shock and Awe of protesting. And, yes, it is a bit of a circus.
Which is why the government announced a few months ago that NEB review processes will be “modernized.”
And a few protestors did disrupt an Energy East hearing in Montreal, though police quickly restored order.
Then the three-member NEB panel resigned over allegations they met improperly with a TransCanada lobbyist, former Quebec Premier Jean Charest. Carr has promised to have new members appointed as soon as possible. If O’Leary thinks that haste is more important than integrity, he should explain why.
And here is an important improvement to the Energy East process.
The government is appointing three new members who “will carry out additional community and public engagement in relation to the proposed Energy East project,” according to an email from the Dept. of Natural Resources. “The work of these new members will complement the formal NEB hearing process and help broaden public engagement on the proposed project.”
As I wrote in a Sept. 11 column, my preference is for a parallel process run by the government that would address issues not strictly part of the NEB mandate, such as the safety concerns raised by Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, for whom O’Leary has nothing but contempt, and climate change objections raised by eco-activists and First Nations.
Let the politicians do their politicking away from the technical review, is my argument. Nevertheless, the three new panelists are a welcome addition.
The funniest part of O’Leary’s pipeline bombast occurs when he takes Coderre to task because “what he doesn’t know about pipleline economics would be encyclopedic in scale, yet he feels compelled to tell millions west of him that pipelines would be catastrophic.”
Oh, the irony, because what Kevin O’Leary doesn’t know about pipeline economics, process, policy, politics, and just plain old general knowledge would fill multiple volumes of encyclopedias.
But that has never stopped the former Don Cherry “Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em” video editor from spouting off before.
Maybe it’s time it did.