Energy East and Local Democracy

In early 2013 TransCanada came to North Grenville looking for support for their Energy East project. If built, it would become the largest fossil fuel pipeline in North America. Capable of moving over 1.1 million barrels per day, it would transport diluted tar sands bitumen (“dilbit”) from Alberta to New Brunswick for export. That pipeline would cross very vulnerable features in our region; passing through wetlands from Stittsville to the Baxter Conservation Area, before crossing under the Rideau River.

Residents first heard of the proposed pipeline when Mayor Gordon spoke positively of it on radio news. Reaction was swift and strong. Over 300 locals signing a petition asking Council to “to oppose the proposed pipeline until a full assessment has been made of the potential impacts on our drinking water, air and land, and associated risks to the Rideau River system.”

Council responded in December 2013. Their resolution stated that it was premature for Council to take a position on the pipeline until TransCanada clearly demonstrate to the residents of this community that they would address our concerns.

It seemed that Council had heard you and wanted to know more: Staff would research your concerns and advise Council accordingly, and apply to the National Energy Board (NEB) for Intervenor status to represent you. It seemed that the Municipality – the level of government most-familiar with the people and their concerns – would be our proponent and seek resolution for residents’ concerns.

At the national level, the NEB was to play its role: looking deeply into the project, assessing and making recommendations of whether the project was in the national interest.

And so there was relief for a couple years. That was until last month when Mayor Gordon, acting as Warden and North Grenville’s representative to County Council, oversaw a motion to issue a letter of support for the Energy East project. The motion was delayed to allow Mayor Nash of Merrickville-Wolford to consult his residents; democracy in action.

In the one-week interim, Sustainable North Grenville approached North Grenville Council to check on the progress that it and Staff were making to address the concerns of residents. We asked Mayor Gordon to follow through on the Council resolution and not to express support for the project. What we heard was astounding:

  • The CAO stated that they’d discovered all they needed to know within a narrow scope of inquiry;
  • There was no mention of intent to hear the full scope of concerns residents have;
  • Staff could present a report of findings to Council before the end of 2016;
  • Intervenor status at NEB was only in case Staff couldn’t resolve its limited concerns independently; and
  • Most shockingly, that the Mayor was supportive of the project based on mysterious findings from the Warden Caucuses of Eastern and Western Ontario – from a report which is not available to the public.

Three days later County Council approved a letter of support for Energy East.

It shouldn’t have come to this. Neither Municipal nor County Council has expressed any logical rationale for wanting or needing to issue a statement of support for such a project. After all, neither has the authority to grant the pipeline permission; that belongs to the Prime Minister and Federal Cabinet. Further, by admission of the CAO, Staff and Council in North Grenville do not have the competency to evaluate project impacts. It is inconceivable that County does either. What does make sense for Council and Staff to do is to put aside any pronouncements of support, to seek out the concerns of residents, and then to be our champion at NEB.

This leaves us with many questions and unaddressed concerns.

Questions like: why were Warden Caucuses studying this; what sources and resources did they have; and why is it important to them? Especially so, given that the Ontario Energy board, with its massive budget and mandate had already done so more comprehensively, and determined that Energy East “will result in an imbalance between risks of the Project and the expected benefits for Ontarians”. If this project is bad for the average Ontarian who lives 500 km away; imagine what the risk assessment looks like for people who live right beside the pipeline. How is it conceivable that North Grenville or County could ever conclude that it was in our collective best interest? Moreover, how is it that County can see it fit to support the pipeline when the only member municipality through which it will pass, is currently on record as not supporting it?

Yet closer to home, and more fundamentally: is this what local democracy looks like; what concerns do you have; and do you deserve to have them considered?

Clearly, there has not been enough exposure given to your worries or to the broader issues surrounding this project. In the coming weeks we’ll continue this discussion by examining the concerns that we’ve heard from you. The aim is to spark discussion about the kind of future we want to have in North Grenville and how we will collectively decide it. Be part of the discussion.

Helping North Grenville become a more sustainable community