The six federal party leaders tackled questions about their plans on climate change and a possible pipeline in Quebec at the outset of the French-language leaders’ debate on Thursday evening.
When Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer was asked whether he feared any “backlash” in Quebec over his plans to impose a pipeline in the province should his party form government, he said that Quebec residents would prefer “homemade energy” over fossil fuels purchased from the U.S.
Scheer echoed what he said during the English-language debate on Monday when pressed by Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, who said that Quebecers and Quebec’s premier clearly do not want a pipeline.
Scheer on Monday said Quebecers purchase “a huge percentage of their energy from the United States” and that they shouldn’t have to.
Scheer said his party would help build new oil pipelines by “fast-tracking” any opposition directly to the Supreme Court of Canada, a promise that has been called into question and criticized as vague.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was unequivocal.
“I will never force a pipeline on Quebec. That is clear,” he said, also accusing Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau of saying “a lot of nice things” but “he doesn’t do much.”
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also accused Trudeau of not being able to meet his emissions targets and that purchasing a pipeline negates any strides made to combat climate change.
Trudeau replied that his government is on track to meet its carbon reduction targets, and that this is possible to do even with pipeline expansions.
“We know that the transition isn’t going to happen overnight,” he said. And all the profits from the pipeline “will be invested in that transition in the fight to fight climate change.”
People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier was pressed by moderators on his skepticism toward the science around climate change. He replied that “we need to protect Canada’s climate back home. … We need to invest in that and do that for Canadians.”
The challenges in getting pipelines built has been frustrating for many people in Alberta.
The expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which the Trudeau government purchased last May, is facing opposition through a court challenge launched by various levels of government, environmental groups, and Indigenous communities.
Is the Quebec pipeline still in play?
Bloc Québécois Leader Blanchet claimed in the first French-language debate hosted by Quebec broadcaster TVA that his party was responsible for killing the Energy East pipeline, a massive project that would have linked Alberta and Saskatchewan oil sands to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick.
But the project, which TransCanada estimated would have cost $15.7 billion to construct, would have expanded roughly 3,000 kilometres of existing natural gas infrastructure, plus built roughly 1,500 kilometres of new pipeline.
The project had, however, faced major challenges.
First, declining oil prices since 2014 made the project less economically viable. TransCanada also cited new approval requirements from the National Energy Board (NEB) in October 2017 when it made the final decision to remove its application to move forward with the project.
At the time, Trudeau faced criticism from the Conservative opposition which said his policies made it impossible for companies to construct pipelines in Canada. However, Trudeau said TransCanada’s decision not to go forward was a “business decision.”
Many Quebecers were also opposed to the project. These concerns were again raised by Blanchet this week during the English-language leaders’ debate when he accused Scheer of wanting to “expropriate” Quebec territory in order to push the project forward.
Both Trudeau and Scheer have been unclear on what they would do if construction of either the TransMountain or the Energy East projects are opposed by a particular Indigenous or First Nations community.