Flipping the Line: Canada can build energy infrastructure. B.C. proves it.
I see three common features of the B.C. projects that might provide some lessons for the rest of Canada.
The Line welcomes angry rebuttals and responses to our work. The best will be featured in our ongoing series, Flipping the Line. Today, Kevin Milligan makes the case for why Canada can indeed find ways to export more energy (and not just oil and gas).
By: Kevin Milligan
Can Canada build energy infrastructure? Matt Gurney wrote last week in The Line that we should be skeptical that Canada can ever build things. I’d argue that the example of British Columbia shows that infrastructure in Canada can built and offers lessons for those who want to build more.
Matt’s article covered a recent speech by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland about Canada’s place in the emerging post-Russian-invasion world, and Canada’s role as an energy exporter. Matt made two main points. First, he judged that Minister Freeland made a “damn good speech.” Second, Matt warned that the Minister’s expressed enthusiasm for “fast-tracking” energy infrastructure projects needs to be checked against actual performance on getting things done. I worked with Minister Freeland when I served in government and have advised her periodically before and since. So, I won’t offer my own critiques of her speech other than to say I agree with Matt on both his main points.
Where I challenge Matt is his lament that “Canada has not established that it has much interest in building much more infrastructure to expand exports of energy beyond the expansion of the TMX pipeline.” I challenge Matt’s lamentation because I live in British Columbia where energy infrastructure projects abound. British Columbia, while located way over here on this side of the Rocky Mountains, is in Canada. I do worry sometimes that we in B.C. are not noticed. This is a shame, because B.C.’s success in getting energy infrastructure projects built provides lessons for those in the rest of Canada who might want to do more. I’ll first list some of the many B.C. projects currently underway to settle that score, then move on to the energy infrastructure lessons the rest of Canada can learn from B.C..
First let’s list some of the major energy infrastructure projects currently underway in B.C.
The Transmountain Pipeline, twinning an existing pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific Coast at Burnaby. Matt did mention TMX in his article — even Ontarians have heard of this one!
Woodfibre LNG, a small but ongoing LNG export terminal project near Squamish.
Coastal GasLink, a natural gas pipeline taking product from Dawson Creek 670 kilometres to Kitimat.
Site C, a hydro electric dam on the Peace River. So long as we actually do mean “energy” when we say “energy” (and aren’t just using “energy” as a cute euphemism for “oil and gas”) then hydro energy should count too. Site C is big, way over budget, but definitely happening. The Site C dam will provide the clean energy to liquify the LNG in Kitimat, so Site C matters for exports.
Yes, Canada can build and is building massive energy infrastructure. If you are someone like Matt or Minister Freeland who wants to build still more energy infrastructure, I see three common features of the B.C. projects that might provide some lessons for the rest of Canada.
First, serious work has gone into working with other orders of government. In B.C., that mostly means Indigenous Peoples and their governments. Not everyone has been happy. And boy there have been some protests! It is not easy. But it is necessary, and successful projects do seem to take the collaboration with Indigenous People seriously.
Second, successful projects dissipate the economic benefits to the host communities. That might be through local contracting, local job guarantees, or local charitable donations. This might strike you as expensive. But I only note that it does seem to work.
Third, the provincial government worked effectively to get the projects going. In B.C., this commitment has generally spanned both B.C. Liberal and NDP governments. It hasn’t been true in all cases — John Horgan’s NDP government once promised to fight the TMX pipeline with “every tool in the toolbox.” But generally speaking, having a government that both wants to and knows how to get things done seems very useful. You have to make good choices, and not all governments do.
So, I will join Matt in watching Minister Freeland’s next steps on fast-tracking additional Canadian energy projects. But perhaps more than Matt, I have some confidence — based in B.C.’s experience — that this can happen. Yes, in Canada.
Kevin Milligan is professor of economics at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver School of Economics.
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