EDMONTON – Andrew Scheer’s policy offerings to this point have been modest, with much to be modest about – a tax credit here, a tax cut there, with the hope that the cumulative package persuades voters they will be better off under a Conservative government.
Not for him the sweeping schemes and bold visions put forward by Justin Trudeau, whose absolute belief in the omni-competence of government to deliver encourages him to dream big dreams – often with unintended and underwhelming consequences.
Yet in the heart of Alberta’s oilpatch, Scheer showed he too is capable of ambitious, unattainable grand designs – in this case, the chimera of a pan-Canadian energy corridor. Flanked by energy workers in the yard of an oil services company, Scheer conjured up Macdonald’s Canadian Pacific Railroad, St. Laurent’s St. Lawrence Seaway and Diefenbaker’s all-weather road to the north as examples of “leaders who could see what could be, to create a country of possibility and opportunity”.
It is a tantalizing vision – a trans-national corridor that would transport oil, gas, hydro and telecoms to export markets. “There will be those who say it can’t be done, that it is too ambitious,” Scheer said. “Canada is a country of ‘no’ under Justin Trudeau…But we need to move from ‘no’ to ‘yes’ and become a country where big things are possible.”
The problem is that it has been a good idea since the 1960s and nobody has been able to make it happen
The problem is that it has been a good idea since the 1960s and nobody has been able to make it happen. Arguably, it has become even more difficult in an era where the courts have handed Indigenous opponents of development an effective veto.
Scheer campaigned in the Edmonton Centre riding with Alberta Premier, Jason Kenney, later in the day. Kenney is an enthusiastic proponent of the idea and pointed out that a Council of the Federation meeting of last summer, 12 out of 13 premiers signed on to the concept. The only hold-out was Quebec’s Francois Legault, and even he agreed to the idea when it came to natural gas and hydro (which he wants to export). “Regarding oil there’s no social acceptability in Quebec,” he said.
There is a rare moment of consensus among provinces, most of which are conservative in their orientation. If Scheer were to become prime minister, it would give a boost to the belief that Canada is still capable of big things.
But this is a project that will take decades – Scheer said he hopes to have a blue ribbon panel report back on a possible route within his first mandate.
Whichever route is chosen will mean the expropriation of large amounts of land at huge public expense – a move that will face determined opposition from farmers, ranchers and other landowners.
Is a Conservative government really going to ride roughshod over the property rights of people who will portray it as legislated theft?
There will inevitably be entrenched opposition from Indigenous groups along the right of way and in Quebec, which will mean endless legal battles.
A dedicated coast-to-coast corridor would need strong endorsement from Indigenous people and there are few signs of that being forthcoming.
As the Senate banking, trade and commerce committee concluded in 2017, such a project would “give rise to significant economic opportunities”.
But its scope and the inevitable complications that come when Crown corporations get involved suggest the federal government would be better focusing its attention on the here and now – for example, getting the Trans Mountain expansion built. Why not use TMX’s existing right of way for gas, hydro and telecoms too? Kenney mentioned the Coastal Gaslink pipeline to the Shell LNG pipeline. “Why don’t we use that easement for other projects?” he asked.
A Conservative government is going to have its hands full dismantling a regulatory system the Liberals have just rebuilt in their own progressive image to spend too much time on pipe-dreams.