Pipeline politics in Toronto: Time for a radical alternative

The tar sands pipeline plan, and extreme weather impacts driven by climate change, strengthen the case for a strong progressive challenge to the right-wing Rob Ford machine.


by Erin Pope

Erin Pope is an activist in the Toronto West End Committee Against Line 9. She gave this talk on January 30, 2014 in a panel discussion of the Greater Toronto Workers Assembly on the tasks of the Left in Toronto municipal politics. 

The Line 9 pipeline controversy has engaged a sizeable number of Toronto residents in the broader controversy over climate change and its implications for the city. A number of different developments intertwine.

Line 9B is a 38-year-old pipeline. It runs from North West Over, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec, and is connected to the Alberta tar sands through a network of other pipes (Line 9A and Line 6B). Here in Toronto, it runs along the hydro corridor, roughly along Finch Avenue. It passes near Pearson Airport, Finch Subway Station, York University and countless communities along the line, including public schools.

Enbridge has applied to reverse the flow, to ultimately take oil out to foreign markets; increase the capacity from 240,000 barrels per day to 300,000; and also transport diluted bitumen, a much more toxic and corrosive oil, and Bakken crude, the same volatile product that decimated Lac-Mégantic in May 2013. Enbridge has also failed to properly consult 14 First Nations along the line.

Line 9 crosses every major tributary into Lake Ontario, threatening our drinking water. In the event of major water contamination, Toronto is likely to be stuck importing water for its citizens – an economic and logistical nightmare.

It connects with municipal politics in a few ways. The City of Toronto made a forceful submission to the National Energy Board (NEB), posing a number of significant conditions for Line 9 reversal after a formal request for information by the city solicitor, a motion that Mayor Rob Ford opposed. After the NEB decides in February or March 2014 if this project will be approved, the City will be challenged to defend its submission and insist on its conditions.

Enbridge says the city’s approach is unacceptable. In fact, Enbridge even refused to respond to the City of Toronto’s Request for Information, saying, ‘…the request is unreasonable, unduly onerous and engages in a “fishing expedition”’.

This is significant because the NEB is expected to approve the Line 9 project. The Federal Government cut a lot of environmental legislation with omnibus bill C-38 and an independent environmental assessment (IEA) isn’t mandatory. The Provincial government has come forward and said it will not use its power to implement an IEA either.

Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline safety expert with over forty years of experience in the energy sector, came out and said the probability of Line 9 rupturing is over 90%. So who will be left to foot the bill if there is a spill?

Enbridge reports it only has general liability insurance covering up to $685 million. This is particularly troubling because In The Goodman Report (Page 5, Lines 5-11) we see a $1 billion economic cost is probable if Line 9B ruptures in a High Consequence Area (but not an urban setting), while if it were to happen in an urban setting such as Toronto, these costs could escalate to multi-billion dollar damages ($5-10 billion) when key infrastructure is affected.  It is important to note that these cost estimations are based on market economics and do not include less predictable costs such as the loss of human life. It’s impossible to know exactly how this cost could land on Torontonians, but all taxpayers will be affected by a leak or spill in this High Consequence Area.

So, when faced with all of this information, on one project alone, it is clear we need a strong candidate to stand up for the people of this city. But there is much more involved than just Line 9:

It appears the Lac-Mégantic death train went through Toronto. The entire chain of oil-transport derailments show the danger to the city from transport of toxic petroleum products, whether by rail or pipeline and ‘safety procedures’ should not be taken for granted.

In addition, Toronto is being hit by unprecedented extreme weather events, which illustrate the hazards we run because of climate change. Hotter atmosphere makes for more extreme weather – hotter heat waves and colder deep freezes – and, in particular, unprecedented heavy precipitation. Extracting and using fossil fuels significantly contributes to climate change. Line 9, like most pipeline projects, is part of the plan to triple the Tars Sands output by 2035.

In the last year, the city has suffered two major water disasters: The City of Toronto is currently on the hook for $93 million – the cost of responding to and the cleanup for the recent ice storm in Dec 2013. Half a million residents in the GTA were without power for days. Toronto is currently looking for aid from Provincial and Federal governments. The City of Toronto is also facing a $60 million price tag after the flooding in July, 2013 – this does not include the $850 million in private claims for the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

The city’s slow response to these weather events shows how run down the infrastructure is and how limited its disaster response capabilities. Rob Ford claims his governance is responsible for millions going into waterway infrastructure, but this is the handiwork of mayors past. Before the end of Mayor Mel Lastman’s term council approved the so-called “wet weather flow management master plan,” a 25-year, $1-billion program of projects designed to make the city somewhat more absorbent during heavy rain. But much of the planned wet-weather project spending has been delayed indefinitely – and this program did not take climate change into account.

Meanwhile, city transit planning is paralyzed. Qualitative expansion of public transit is a significant part of the alternative to climate change, reducing emissions, putting investment dollars to a better purpose, and making the hazardous transport of toxic petroleum through the city obsolete. I think a progressive alternative to Ford has to encompass all these issues. Broad democratic consultation is needed on how to prevent climate change and adjust to it. This needs to be placed at the centre of civic planning and investment.

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2 thoughts on “Pipeline politics in Toronto: Time for a radical alternative

  1. We’re having an open house for our new initiative this Sunday Feb 16th at 5pm in Toronto to discuss organized media resistance to the sea of corporate BS that polutes the system. If you’re interested in fighting back through the media we’ve been doing a volunteer radio show from CIUT 89.5 FM since 2006 and are now taking an extension of this project full time.

    Details are here: https://www.facebook.com/events/689225284431829/


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