Want to build something? Ask the angry mob first – by Chris Selley (National Post – March 12, 2013)

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A panel discussion at the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa on Saturday considered the various pipeline routes that more Albertan bitumen might travel to market: west to the British Columbia coast and thence to China, south to the United States, or east to Saint John, N.B., and thence the world. The first two are already political hot potatoes in Ottawa and Washington, respectively, and the latter would be a hot potato in Quebec City, and no doubt on the streets of Montreal, if the idea ever gathered steam.

On the matter of these political obstacles, political strategist Rick Anderson ruefully asked an interesting question: “If somebody came forward today with a proposal to build a national railroad across the country, would it survive the processes that we now have in place? Would we get that done?” Or would it bog down in red tape, native blockades and street protests and eventually die on the vine?

Canada today wouldn’t exist as it does without the railroad, of course, but within the scope of the thought experiment the answer is clearly “no.” A Toronto example hammers home the point: For much of my lifetime, a rail link between Pearson Airport and downtown has been both a screaming priority and the stated desire of just about everyone.

This has never been a herculean undertaking. There is, and has been for nearly 40 years, a commuter rail station less than a kilometre away from the end of Pearson’s runway 23.

But with success now at long last in view, opposition is more fevered than ever: Residents living next to the tracks object to the increased traffic, the lack of local stops, the fact the trains will be diesel (convertible to electric) rather than electric. Others protest that the proposed fare is too expensive — designed to serve rich businesspeople and not blue-collar flyers. (Which it is. That’s the point.) And all that comes without a single First Nation in the mix.

There are similar examples all over the country, of course, where NIMBYism and environmentalism and perfectionism and all sorts of other –isms combine to keep good projects in limbo. When it comes to pipelines, the federal government could theoretically just brandish the Constitution, as it did in the case of the railways, and declare the pipeline in question a matter of federal jurisdiction. Bingo, bango. Off goes Alberta’s bitumen to Kitimat, the Pacific, and oil-thirsty China!

But it’s not nearly so simple, as recent events have shown. For one thing, Mr. Anderson complains, provincial politicians respect neither federal power nor well-established processes.

For the rest of this article, please go to the National Post website: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/03/11/chris-selley-want-to-build-something-ask-the-angry-mob-first/


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