National Bank (NA.TO) Chief Executive Louis Vachon thinks TransCanada’s (TRP.TO) controversial Energy East pipeline would benefit the domestic economy, though there remain a number of hurdles for approval. In an interview with BNN, Vachon said the project would also diminish Canada’s reliance on energy imports, but warned a lack of constructive dialogue could derail the entire project.
“Strictly [in terms of] economics and energy strategy, we’re in agreement with the project,” he said. “Right now, eastern Canada, including Quebec, imports most of its oil from the United States and OPEC countries and frankly, last I checked, they’re not part of Canadian federation, so we’re not getting a part of that fiscal benefit.”
Vachon said new pipeline capacity would also lessen the burden on Canadian rail transportation network. The July 2013 Lac-Mégantic freight train derailment killed 47 people and is among the deadliest in Canadian railroading history.
“There may be security advantages to having a pipeline versus transport of oil in trains, where unfortunately we’ve seen examples of what it can lead to,” he said.
But Vachon conceded there are legitimate environmental concerns in Quebec, where TransCanada has faced fierce opposition from politicians at the municipal and provincial levels.
“There’s a very strong anti-carbon lobby in Quebec, which has to be respected: people have to acknowledge that it exists and there has to be a very, very clear effort to engage with that lobby, and to have a dialogue with it,” he said. “So it is a, I think, a difficult situation for the companies, for TransCanada pipeline and to build a consensus around this, but I think there are different ways of approaching this.”
Vachon said despite the disruptions to the review process, which included scuttling hearings in Montreal due to protests and the surprise resignation of all three National Energy Board panel members, a clear and concise dialogue could get proceedings back on track.
“The fact that a couple of people working on the [NEB review panel] have been talking to different people was not helpful and we [got] off to a difficult start in Montreal with the public audience,” he said. “I think it has to be a major reset, and it has to be a major reset from the corporate world and the political world if we want to get this thing [done.]”
“We need a better dialogue, otherwise it’s not going to be an easy sell in Quebec, I can assure you of that.”