National Unity for Whom?
By Ryan Young
Over the past few weeks there has been a renewed debate about the proposed Energy East pipeline and not surprisingly the debate has turned to national unity. How can a country function when one province is able to prevent the economic expansion of another province? That is the summary of the questions that are being asked of Canadians in order to put pressure on Quebec to allow the pipeline to proceed as planned. The main talking point seems to be that what is good for Alberta is good for Canada.
As a Newfoundlander I find myself having to question the merits of these discussions. My nationalist pride insists that I ask why it is acceptable to have a discussion about national unity for the benefit of the Alberta oil industry without having the same conversation about the transmission of Labrador electricity across another province. Maybe it is just the age old ire towards Quebec that has been inherited by each and every Newfoundlander born since the Churchill Falls deal was signed that brings forth these questions. Even so, I believe that you can’t have a legitimate discussion about national unity without including the best interests of all provinces in the discussion. I am not anti-Alberta. Far from it. I certainly recognize the great contribution made to the Newfoundland economy because of Alberta oil. I support the national unity argument, I just want to see it extended to all provinces suffering under the oppression of energy restrictions.
Certainly I was blown away a few weeks ago when I read a quote in the National Post from Quebec City Mayor Regis Lebeaume in which he stated:
“I think that in a normal country, all organizations that want to build infrastructure for transporting energy should be able to do it. I am talking about pipelines, but also about electricity transmission,”
“I wonder how I would feel if a province or a region in another province prevented Hydro-Québec from building its transmission line. I would feel exactly like the people in the West do now. I understand them.”
As soon as the shock in my hands wore off and I was able to get my jaw back into place, I quickly searched out Mayor Lebeaume’s contact information and sent him a letter outlining exactly how it feels to be a province suffering under such a situation. Is Newfoundland and Labrador of such little value to the rest of Canada that not a single person would make the comparison between Mayor Lebeaume’s comments and the lengthy battles between Newfoundland and Quebec over power transmission rights? Will not one journalist point out that in those battles the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favor of Quebec? Is Mayor Lebeaume himself so naive as to fail to recognize the arrogance of such a statement? All fair questions that nobody wants to ask.
Just when I was starting to calm down I decided to check out the latest rant from Rick Mercer. Imagine my shock at seeing Rick, a good Newfoundland boy, selling out to the national unity argument! Sure it can be argued that he was bashing Quebec more than he was promoting Alberta, indeed, that may very well be true. But when the focus of the rant turned to national unity and Newfoundland was again left out of the discussion I felt angry and betrayed. What does national unity mean then exactly? Appeasing Alberta or serving the best interest of all provinces?
Whether Energy East ever gets approved or not is of little consequence to the people actually living and working in Newfoundland and Labrador. The issue is not with the pipeline. The issue is with a country having a discussion about national unity for the benefit of one province while ignoring it for another. Fair is fair and all Newfoundland has ever wanted is the same rights as any other province. One simple fact remains clear in my mind. If Quebec is forced to allow the pipeline it should also be forced to allow our transmission lines to cross its borders. One without the other is just not good nation-building. By all means let’s have the national unity discussion, but let’s include everyone this time.
You can find the quoted National Post article here: