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Pipeline pendulum starting to swing

At first glance, pipelines to get Alberta's oil to market seem as stalled as ever. Many people across Canada don't seem to think the advantages of pipelines are worth the environmental risks they're worried about.

At first glance, pipelines to get Alberta's oil to market seem as stalled as ever. Many people across Canada don't seem to think the advantages of pipelines are worth the environmental risks they're worried about.

As I've pointed out before (‘Harper is only making things worse for pipelines,' St. Albert Gazette, Sept. 23, 2015), Stephen Harper deserves a lot of the blame for opposition to pipelines becoming as strong as it has. Many of his actions created the perception that he didn't care about peoples' concerns about pipelines, and that he would force the pipelines on people whether they wanted them or not. That only gave our critics more ammunition, and didn't exactly make people in other provinces more likely to support pipeline construction.

There are signs, however, that things are starting to change.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre initially came out against Energy East. However, after meeting with Justin Trudeau, he cooled his rhetoric, saying that the pipeline needed the “right balance” between growth and development. He said that TransCanada needs to “do its homework” on its proposal, and then “we would see.” He is now repeating what Preston Manning has been saying for years about the need to sustainably develop oil resources. More significantly, Quebec City Mayor Regis Lebeaume supports the pipeline. Also, a recent poll showed that Quebecers overwhelmingly prefer Western Canadian oil to foreign oil. It was chosen by 59 per cent of Quebecers, almost five times the 13 per cent of all the foreign sources combined. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, despite her concerns over emissions, supports the pipeline.

Why's this happening?

As Wynne noted, her concerns are starting to be addressed. She's not the only one who thinks so – the leaders of multiple Alberta energy companies, as well as of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, have all expressed their support for the Notley government's carbon pricing plan. Carbon pricing isn't just supported by the left, either – conservative advocates and economists like Preston Manning and Jack Mintz support it too.

Some people might say that this won't change the minds of devoted pipeline opponents. Even if it doesn't, actions like these are a way to show that Alberta is serious about developing our oil resources responsibly, and weaken the arguments of our critics by showing just how wrong they are.

Contrary to the way we're being depicted by some critics as wanting to pillage the environment and trample indigenous rights, we can and should show how indigenous peoples and companies themselves are participating in the oil and gas industry. We can show how oil companies actively support recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples, and sponsor indigenous culture. Similarly, we can use actions such as carbon pricing and land reclamation requirements to show how we are trying to reduce the impact of development on the environment. Along with equalization, we should also remind people how people from other parts of Canada coming to work in the oil industry have sent large amounts of money home, and how oilsands tax revenues are a critical source of funding for Canadian social programs.

We don't have to choose between being loud and angry, or quiet and diplomatic – who says we can't be both loud and diplomatic?

That might just be the key to having pipelines built to benefit not just Alberta, but all of Canada.

Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.

Correction: A previous version of this column mistakenly identified the Energy East pipeline project as an Enbridge project. It is a TransCanada project.