Green Party targeting Quebec voters with anti-pipeline position - but will it work?
MONTREAL -- The new leader of the Green Party is telling Quebec to scrap a $10-billion pipeline proposed for the Saguenay region. She's hoping opposition of the project will turn some voters green in what could be a looming pandemic election.
The party — under the helm of Annamie Paul since October — has its sights on several Montreal ridings and is doubling down on appealing to voters who are increasingly concerned about climate change.
The GNL Quebec project would send fracked natural gas from western Canada through an existing pipeline to a new one, starting in Northern Ontario and ending at a new gas liquefaction plant by the Saguenay River.
The new, 790-kilometre pipeline project would also include a new shipping terminal to export the product to markets in Asia and Europe.
The projects' backers point to the major boost it would have on a struggling economy—roughly 6,000 direct and indirect jobs in the region during construction, as well as 1,350 jobs during operation.
According to Paul, however, those jobs would be better created in the green sector, for things like deep energy retrofits of municipal buildings, creating a national renewable electricity grid, and creating zero-emission electric-vehicle charging stations.
"These are consistent positions of ours, and I hope they win us votes because they’re good public policy. Don’t get me wrong -- we’re here to win seats, to win votes," she said in a recent interview.
"But, definitely, it is really prefaced on our commitment to the climate and being responsible global citizens in our fight to protect our world."
But one expert who spoke to CTV News questions whether the strategy of focusing on liquefied natural gas in Quebec will bear any fruit for the Green Party.
"It’s going to be difficult. It's certainly a statement that will get some votes, but... it's not a statement that will distinguish them from [other] contenders," said Olivier Jacques, a postdoctoral political scientist at Queen's University.
"The Greens need to fight both the Liberal Party and the NDP in some districts, and they also need to get votes from Bloc voters that are also in favor of environmental protection," he said.
"So, they are really facing a lot of competition that is going to be difficult to to deal with."
In any upcoming federal election, the Greens will benefit from a new leader who speaks better French than her predecessor, Elizabeth May. But while taking a hard stance against a pipeline will resonate, Jacques said, it will take more than that to chip away at the Liberal stronghold in Quebec.
The Greens currently have no seats in the province.
JOBS BOOST FOR QUEBEC
Annamie Paul’s criticism of the proposal comes after Quebec’s environmental review board recently announced that the risks associated with the project far outweigh its benefits.
In its 500-page report, the board recommended, among other things, that the government take into account the risks to the area’s beluga whale population.
Paul said it’s problematic to position liquefied natural gas as a transitional fuel towards a goal of zero emissions because of all the risks associated with getting the product to those markets. She instead wants the provincial government to focus on green infrastructure projects.
"Even the process of extraction includes the increased risk in earthquakes, it includes risking leaks into our aquifers and water bodies, and it also releases a great deal of methane," she said.
More than 90 per cent of 2,500 public submissions to the Office of Public Hearings on the Environment (BAPE) opposed the project, the strongest showing on record in such environmental consultations.
She said she doesn't dispute that a boost of thousands of jobs would certainly help Quebec right now. Before the pandemic, Quebec’s unemployment rate was just over 5 per cent, but rose to 7.2 in March 2021, according to provincial data.
"The unemployment rate has increased, the economy has slowed down and we’re going to need to stimulate the economy quickly once we exit from the pandemic," Paul said.
“The best way to do that, the most effective way to do that, we know, is by creating green infrastructure.”
FEDERAL RECOMMENDATION EXPECTED THIS SUMMER
The federal government has yet to make a decision on the project, which is still under review by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.
"These assessment processes are fair, thorough, and based on science, evidence, and Indigenous traditional knowledge," wrote Moira Kelly, press secretary for the federal environment minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, in an email to CTV News.
"Once we have all the necessary information and analysis, we will make a decision on the projects."
Provincially speaking, the governing CAQ party supports the pipeline project, but the Quebec Liberal Party, the Parti Quebecois and Quebec Solidaire all oppose it.
Quebec’s environment minister, Benoit Charette, is also reviewing the project’s future and will make his recommendation to the government by the end of the summer. In a statement, his office said the BAPE report "raises several important questions."
"We have been clear that it is up to the proponents of the Energie Saguenay project to demonstrate that their project will make a positive contribution to the reduction of global GHG emissions," said his press secretary, Geneviève Richard.
--With files from The Canadian Press