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New Brunswick premier wants to follow Saskatchewan’s model, and get off equalization

“You just can’t keep saying no and have the same benefits over and over again”
Blaine Higgs Scott Moe Moosomin
Blaine Higgs and Scott Moe in Moosomin

Moosomin – Premier Blaine Higgs of New Brunswick sees the success Saskatchewan had in moving from a have-not province to a have province, to becoming a net contributor to the federal equalization program, as a worthy goal. And he’s working towards that end, including having recently removed a moratorium on fracking in his province.

Higgs and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe spoke to the Moosomin World-Spectator and Pipeline News just before the rally kicked off on Feb. 16. The event was fittingly held in the brand new hydraulic pumpjack factory owned by IJack Technologies of Moosomin, and a few kilometres south of the pipeline TransCanada had wished to convert into Energy East to transport Saskatchewan oil from Moosomin to New Brunswick and Quebec.

Moe spoke of working together towards the ultimate goal of an east-west energy corridor across Canada. “It’s an important piece of our nation’s future, and it’s something I think we have a role to play in as energy leaders,” he said.

What would it take to get Energy East going again? Moe responded, “The energy sector, the entire energy sector, and the wealth of our communities, need the support of the federal government.”

“That is, at the very highest levels, what we need to see, from the support of our federal government for our energy sector, from the pumpjacks we see out here on the prairies, right through the barrel of oil leaving the refinery in New Brunswick.”

Higgs said, “I would say, in addition to that, events like this that are demonstrating the public are not prepared to just let our resources get devalued, and affect jobs and then families

“New Brunswick’s received transfer payments for a long time. I’m not proud of that fact. But equally, I recognize the importance of a united country that makes that possible. So it’s not acceptable to see stranded assets that are devalued. And having people speak up is going to be huge. And then working through, in our case, I feel like we’re a stranded asset in New Brunswick, with difficulty getting through Quebec.

“If we work together as provinces, and the federal government realizes we’re not going to just stand around and let our commodities be devalued, games will change. And Bill C-69, it should not pass, certainly in the condition it is in right now, it should not be going forward.”

Moe said Moosomin is a microcosm of the Saskatchewan and Canadian economy, with manufacturing, agriculture and energy all in the same community, as well as a nearby potash mine.

Rail versus pipe

Earlier that morning, a CN trail hauling crude-by-rail derailed in the Assiniboine valley near St. Lazare, Man., a 40 minute drive from Moosomin. Some of the cars spilled oil, but it was contained before reaching the river, which is the main water source for Brandon.

Asked about crude-by-rail, Moe said, “The oil is on the rails because of the lack of pipeline capacity, and its not good, when you have what happened this morning in St. Lazare.”

He had offered Saskatchewan support to assist with the cleanup.

“It speaks to the larger challenge that we have, not only the direct economic impact to the industry of having that energy product in a pipe, but the safety of having that energy product in a pipe, as well. The indirect economic impact, for our province, and I would say for Western Canada and the rest of Canada as a whole is we actually need that rail capacity for other industries as we move forward.”

That includes agriculture and potash. “If it can go in a pipe, and that’s the safest way to transport that product, the most efficient way, and the most sustainable way, from a carbon perspective, that’s where that product should be. That’s why we should not only be proceeding with Energy East, with the full support of the federal government, but the Trans Mountain pipeline should be going sooner than later, and we should reopen conversations around Northern Gateway and Mackenzie Valley to get all of our sustainable products in this nation to Canadians and to other people in the world,” Moe said.

Higgs said, “That’s the irony of it all, isn’t it? There’s no debate that pipelines are the safest mode of transportation. So when you have that as a starting point, and you have concern at either end, not only for the lifestyle that’s here, and support of the oil and gas industry, but at the other end at the refinery. We were permitted to build a second refinery, at one point. We’re permitted for expansion. We’re permitted for expansion of the tank farm. And it’s accepted lifestyle. There’s no problems. There’s no issues. People want to see the jobs and the growth.

“So when solutions at either end of the country, you kinda figure out we can work through this. And when you have the reality of the safety of oil transportation movement, and you have the displacement of foreign crude brought in, all of those factors build to one solution. Let’s make it happen! Let’s stop talking about it and make it happen.”

Asked where the disconnect is, Higgs replied, “The disconnect is in Quebec, and the lack of will in the federal government to make it happen.

“And the disconnect is in transfer payments that keep coming and coming, regardless of the impact of where the revenue is coming from. You have to connect the dots, and say, ‘How does our country survive and thrive?’

“Well, it thrives from, it always has thrived from, natural resources.

“And yes, we have a transition economy, but it’s not there for a number of years, yet, and there’s an evolution to this. So, the pipeline technology is sound. You speak that you were involved in the construction. But the pigging of the lines – you can really stay on top of the condition of the pipelines. “And the safety record is stellar. So this just doesn’t make sense. So people at rallies like this, that’s going to be the game changer.”

It’s not common for premiers to go to other provinces to promote causes. But Higgs said, “That’s what it’s going to take. We need to connect with people every day that it’s impacting.

“Within our province, we’ve had a huge impact. We’ve had a huge exodus of people that have moved here because that’s were the jobs are. They have to do that. Well, here we have that opportunity, right in New Brunswick, and we’re not taking advantage of it. In the gas sector, to move that forward, which I’m doing as well, because we must! We can’t just watch people decline. We still have essential services to look after, be it health, education and infrastructure. But there hast to be a revenue stream that supports that. And that revenue stream can’t keep coming from taxpayers. It has to come from private sector investment and the resources we have, right here in Canada,” Higgs said.

New Brunswick lifts fracking ban

Two months earlier, Higgs ended New Brunswick’s ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas.

“We’re doing it in a regional area that has accepted the fracking process for 15, 20 years, without any incident of any kind. So basically we reinstated the ability in that area for licence holders for that area to expand their operation, to move forward and expander their natural gas,” Higgs said.

He said in Atlantic Canada, domestic natural gas supplies, from Deep Panuke and Sable Island, are now depleted. “All of our gas is now coming in from outside, and we don’t have any more domestic supply, so the price is going up,” Higgs said.

They’ve had industry uptake. He said, “We’re working with them in regulatory processes, and we’re working with them on timing. And obviously, we’re working with the locals about development in a sustainable way that everyone understands the risk mitigations and the realities of doing it.”

“When I come to places like here, and I talk to Premier Moe about how successful it is here, and how successful it is across Western Canada, and here we are, in New Brunswick, debating it like it’s the first time ever? We’re not reinventing the wheel here. This is something that’s been going on elsewhere for many, many years.

Moe talked about sharing regulatory processes, such as Saskatchewan’s, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

“We also have the opportunity to join, ultimately to advocate, and we’ll see how far this goes with respect to some of these nation-building energy corridor projects that we have. You’re going to see, in fairness, a lot of advocacy in the next weeks and months with respect to a number of premiers on these types of energy corridor projects that have the ability to really add value, and jobs, to communities right across this nation. This is no longer a Western Canadian premier or Western Canadian premiers, this is Canadians across the nation, speaking out for the jobs and the wealth this industry can provide.”

Moe hopes the rally is a beginning to a broader beginning to those above efforts.

Higgs said, “For me, it’s showing there’s a common goal across the country. And in working with premiers like Premier Moe, and others we’ve been talking to through this process, you know, we are connected, east to west. And we respect the fact that it’s important to our nation to be strong in that regard. And it’s important to meet the challenges that each of us have in order survive and succeed.

“And that’s why, for me, to be home and thinking, it’s not my problem, well it is my problem. In order to get it fixed, we have to stand up and be counted.”

Changing equalization

Asked if we need to change the federal equalization program, Higgs responded, “I do, actually. And my colleagues at homes will probably have trouble if you repeat this at home. But the idea is, it should be connected. When the system is being derailed, when the system is being stalled, because it isn’t allowed to maximize its benefits, and there’s roadblocks along the way, there should be some cause and effect.

“And the reason that things don’t get done is because if we get such volatility in nation-building concepts that get changed every time there is an election,” he said.

Moe added, “Saskatchewan is an example of a province that has been a have-not province for a number of years. Recently, in the last decade, we’ve been fortunate enough to develop some of the resources that we have and have our industries do quite well, actually, and to be a net contributor for some period of time.

“What today is about and the conversation this past week is about, as we come out of court, and thanks to the attorney general’s office out of New Brunswick for intervening in that case, with respect to the constitutional right of whether the federal government has the right to impose a carbon tax on this industry, and the people in this community, and across the province. We don’t think that we do.

“This is how we were able to do it, and we’re a shining example of how we are able to continue to add value to the resources that we have, move into that have territory, create wealth for Saskatchewan and share with the rest of the nation. It’s frustrating when you have areas that are receiving that wealth that are not wanting to become part of the conversation of continuing to grow that wealth for all Canadians. That is a conversation Canada needs to have,” Moe said.

Quebec has put a moratorium on fracking, which has meant Questerre Energy, which has signifcant acreage in the St. Lawrence valley as well as oil production near Redvers, can’t produce natural gas in Quebec. Asked about that, Higgs said it’s unfortunate. “It goes back to connecting the dots.

“If we’re not able to accept best practices, to help ourselves, then we should have to deal with that, in our own province. People have to realize, you just can’t keep saying no and have the same benefits over and over again.

“That’s the challenge in Quebec, I’m not familiar with that particular landholder, but there is the challenge that we have in Canada, and in New Brunswick in particular. We say no to an industry that has 40 or 50 years experience, but yet that’s okay?

“Well isn’t. We can’t expect other people to pay our way if we’re not trying to do our best. I’m not saying we’re able to do that at this point, because we’re not. And that’s why I value the benefits we get from transfer payments. And I’m to look at the Saskatchewan position, as Premier Moe mentioned, and looking at that and saying, ‘We can do that. We can move from a recipient to a contributor.’”

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