The Electric Pencil

This Small Town Victory Has Big Consequences for Tar Sands Pipelines

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Originally published at

A five year battle against a key component of plans to pipe tar sands bitumen through Quebec and to the eastern United States quietly came to an end this summer.

In mid-July, Montreal Pipe Line Ltd., owned by Shell Oil, Suncor and Imperial Oil, withdrew its request with the Commission de protection du territoire agricole (the Commission for the Protection of Agricultural Land of Quebec, or CPTA) for permission to build a pumping station on 2.4 hectares of agricultural land in the eastern part of the province. The pumping station was crucial for plans to reverse the direction of the 378-kilometre-long Portland-Montreal Pipe Line (PMPL), in order to send oil from Montreal to the port city of Portland, Maine, for export.

The decision to withdraw the request has been met with cautious celebration by those who have been opposing the project since 2008.

“To our committee, this is a victory,” said Jean Binette, president of the Comité pour l’environnement de Dunham (the Dunham Committee for the Environment, or CED), in a telephone interview with DeSmog. “But we’re not fooling ourselves – this is most likely simply a postponement,” until projects like Enbridge’s reversal of Line 9B from Montreal to Sarnia orTransCanada’s Energy East pipeline comes though, he said.

The plan to reverse the PMPL, which has a capacity of 600,000 barrels per day, to send oil south was originally in conjunction with Enbridge Oil Inc.’s expansive Trailbreaker pipeline project, that would have sent tar sands bitumen from Alberta to Portland, for eventual refinement and export. While that plan was initially put on hold in 2009 and cancelled completely in 2012, Montreal Pipe Line Ltd. had held steady to its pipeline reversal plan up until this summer.

But with Trailbreaker off the table (or renamed to make residents think it was), Enbridge’s planned reversal of Line 9B a ways off, and TransCanada’s Energy East plan still seeking approval from the Quebec government, there was no reason for the company to continue with the application.

According to the company, the decision to withdraw the request was a purely financial one. Montreal Pipe Line, Ltd. (which, together with Portland Pipe Line Corporation, makes up Portland Montreal Pipe Line, Ltd.) had maintained an option on the parcel of land where they planned to build the pumping station. That option was up for renewal, and it no longer made financial sense to maintain the option, so the company allowed it to lapse, said spokesperson Denis Boucher.

Without ownership of the land, a request for rezoning from agricultural to industrial became moot. The campaign against the pumping station had nothing to do with it, said Boucher. “The decision was based on our company, on our needs, and not having an active project. We decided not to move forward with the project,” he told DeSmog.

The link between financial concerns and opposition may not be so distinct, though.

“It’s an economic decision because it’s costing them too much” to not be pumping oil, said Cameron Fenton, director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition (CYCC) and a former member of Climate Justice Montreal. During his time in Montreal, he helped organize solidarity actions with the residents of Dunham, and continues to organize against the tar sands and pipeline expansions. “The longer you stall them, the more it costs them.”

And the pumping station project has been stalled for over five years.

If you had asked at the beginning, though, you would have never expected this outcome.

In 2009, it seemed like the battle to keep the pumping station off of undeveloped agricultural land in the heart of Quebec farming territory was over before it had really began. Following consultations in 2008, the CPTA released a 2009 report approving the change in the use of the land, allowing for the pumping station to be built. There was also little popular support in 2008 for the newly formed CED (Dunham Committee for the Environment), said Binette.

People didn’t think it was a big issue – the pipeline was underground, what trouble could it cause? –  explained Binette.

But for a few, the worries about tar sands oil coming through a pipeline built in 1950 was too big a risk. Dunham resident Stéphane Durand filed a lawsuit with the Administrative Tribunal of Quebec, alleging the CPTA had not done its due diligence in reviewing the project, and won. He also won an appeal by the company filed in the Court of Quebec.

Montreal Pipe Line was forced to resubmit their application to the CPTA in 2011. By then, it wasn’t clear when oil would be coming from west to east. Two years later, despite growing pressure to move tar sands oil east, the pumping station is now off the table.

An integral part of keeping the fight going that long, said Binette, was the population of Dunham eventually coming around to their cause. Residents saw the 2010 Enbridge Line 6B leak that spilled over 830,000 gallons of tar sands bitumen into Michigan’s Kalamazoo river, said Binette. The similarities between Kalamazoo and the eventual pipeline reversal in Dunham – both pipelines were built around 1950, and the Montreal Pipe Line would also carry the more abrasive (and more difficult to clean up) tar sands bitumen – made them realize this kind of accident could happen close to home.

South of the border, where the Kalamazoo spill has echoed even more strongly, organizers are expressing the same reserve as Binette.

“While the pulling of the plug for the building of the pumping station was welcome news to our ears, we are staying the course. Our campaign continues,” wrote 350 Maine‘s Sarah Lachance in an email to DeSmog. “We are well aware of the industry’s determination to bring this poison to market and they are well aware of our determination to stop them.”

Despite the possibly fleeting nature of this win, the CYCC’s Fenton said it is significant because it represents the first victory in the recent wave of protests against pipeline development and the expansion of the tar sands. The fight against the pumping station – and the pipeline reversal by extension – predates the battle against the Northern Gateway, Keystone XL and now Energy East. It shows that victories are possible, he said.

But, it could be a bumpy road ahead. With the Energy East and Line 9 reversal still on its way, Binette said that eventually Montreal could see 1.3 million barrels of oil come to the city per day. And with TransCanada talking about sending their oil to St. John, New Brunswick for refining, he said there’s no doubt that eventually there could be enough oil coming through to re-invigorate the PMPL reversal and bring a new pumping station proposal.

“It buys us some time, but we’re not going to ignore what’s happening – we’re following it closely,”  he said.


Written by Tim McSorley

August 30, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Pierre Falardeau (December 28, 1946 – September 25, 2009)

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Pierre Falardeau died of cancer this morning. He was 62. The man who brought us Elvis Gratton, the short film based on Michèle Lalonde’s poem ‘Speak White’, and the ode to les Patriotes 15 février 1839 was never at a lack for words and provoked controversy over the years, particularly with comments about David Suzuki and the role of the “ethnic vote” in Quebec politics. But he also believed in the power of popular resistance and self determination, expressing admiration for Palestinians in their struggles as well. Whichever side of the Quebec sovereignty question you stand on, Quebec lost one of it’s icons today.

Falardeau on Tout le monde en parle (Oct. 2008)

Elvis Gratton – Canadien français québécois… whatever

UPDATE: Just got this in my email. A succinct tribute to Falardeau from the Calendrier Militant:

Voici notre hommage personnel à Pierre Falardeau

Le coeur de Pierre Falardeau vient de cesser de battre.

Une voix libre, forte, dénuée de l’hypocrisie de la langue de bois que nous impose la rectitude politique et les manuels de politesse et de bienséance de la bourgeoisie vient de se taire.

Contre vents et marées, il a toujours gardé l’intégrité de ses positions, pour une nation québécoise libre, française et progressiste. …

Son oeuvre cinématographique ne doit pas occulter son travail d’écriture.

Il disait lui-même “écrire comme un pamphlétaire du XVIIIe siècle, ce qui ne se fait plus”!

Dans notre société conformiste au concensus mou qui refuse les débats tranchés, il a eu raison de renouveler le genre.

Written by Tim McSorley

September 26, 2009 at 3:23 pm

From Manila to Palestine

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Campaign signs for the 2007 mid-term elections fly amidst improvised electricity wires in Tondo, Manila.

Campaign signs for the 2007 mid-term elections fly amidst improvised electricity wires in Tondo, Manila.

I have to be honest and say that while I have been aware for several years now of the situation facing Philipino immigrants to Canada – particularly those who come to work as migrant workers – I maintain very little knowledge of the history or current political situation in the Philippines itself.

That all changed a little when I had a chance to see a new exhibit at Sablo Kafé, On Movements in Manila, put on by Stefan Christoff (full disclosure: he’s a friend and colleague on several projects). Christoff visited the Philippines in 2007 as a journalist and election observer. The photos he took in and around the capital explore both the intense levels of poverty, but also the community organising and push-back that has developed. The exhibit is timed with a call from the Centre for Philippine Concerns in Montreal (which is co-sponsoring the exhibit) and the International Philippine Election Oberservation Team 2010 call for volunteers to help observe the upcoming 2010 presidential elections. The need for outside observers are clear. There are a large number of reports of military intimidation during the last election, which some believe will only increase this time around. Christoff wrote a two part series on the topic upon his return in 2007 as well. There are also reports of up to 1000 political killings of progressives and leftists in the country since 2001.

The exhibit runs at Sablo (50, St-Zotique East, corner Boul. St-Laurent) until the end of September, and while small is definitely worth seeing; while Christoff is more of a hobbyist photographer, the images in this exhibit are thought provoking and blend artistry while shedding light on violence, repression and movements against it.

I can also hardly mention Christoff without also reminding people that DAM, an incredible Palestinian hip hop ensemble, are coming to Montreal for the next installment of Artists Against Apratheid – the ninth if you can believe it. It’ll be going down on Sept. 28th at Café Campus (57 Prince Aurthur East). Also performing that night will be Montreal Iraqi-Canadian hiphopper the Narcicyst. To give you a little taste of what to expect, here’s Narcy’s latest video…
Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “The Narcicyst- P.H.A.T.W.A. (Official…“, posted with vodpod

Written by Tim McSorley

September 21, 2009 at 11:22 am

Wade Rathke: Healthcare, Neo-McCarthyism and the need for a progressive pushback

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Last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to hear Wade Rathke speak at Concordia University, as part of the Too Cool for School alternative orientation, and organised by the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy and the School of Community and Public Affairs. I’m not a student there anymore, but I’m glad I can take advantage of these kinds of events.

Rathke is the founder and former chief organiser of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now; he stepped down after 38 years at the helm in 2008. Like any organisation, it has had it’s fair share of ups, downs and scandals*; but it has also had some pretty major successes, including working to ensure living wages in at least 15 cities across the US, and on issues such as housing, immigrants rights, and voter registration.

I was curious to hear Rathke speak; I didn’t know much about him, except for his long tenure at ACORN, or much about ACORN, except what little I had heard during the last presidential election around their efforts to sign up voters.

He gave an interesting, wide-ranging talk on everything form the history of ACORN, to voter registration reform, to housing laws and protections, to areas where Canada is lagging behind the US in social policy (there are a few). He also highlighted that there is, in fact, ACORN Canada, which I had never heard of, and that they are campaigning for a living wage in Ottawa, which is great to hear.

I’m being intentionally vague here – I recorded the talk for CKUT 90.3FM radio, and we’ll be playing it next Wednesday from 5pm to 6pm when the Avalanche Collective hosts Off The Hour. But to give you a sneak peak, I thought I’d put up this short, 4 minute clip:

It’s a response to a question that came up a few times: how is it the right-wing seems to be more organised and mobilised around health care? And is anything being done about it? Wade was at times more positive, at times more negative, but he was clear: the left became to complacent after Obama’s election, and it needs to stand up – together – or right-wing, anti public health care forces will definitely win on this one – and who knows what else. In particular, he took called out the Neo-McCarthyism he sees in the media, and called for progressives rally together in a pushback, or be ready to loose on this.

*Those scandals have erupted recently with the posting of ‘sting’ videos allegedly showing ACORN employees in several offices providing income tax advice to a prostitute and her pimp. The two were in face undercover right-wing activists. I won’t post directly to the videos here, but Bertha Lewis, Chief Organizer with ACORN, responded to the allegations on Democracy Now yesterday. She makes it clear that while ACORN takes these issues serieously (they have fired the employees involved) there’s a lot more to this story than the media is saying. Watch her response here. Wade has also written a bit about this on his own blog.

Written by Tim McSorley

September 18, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Does Canada filter journalists, Rendon-style?

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Normally a piece like this wouldn’t make me think twice: of course, as Canadian Press reports, the Canadian government keeps a close eye on what is being written out of Afghanistan by Canadian journalists. The extent of it may seem excessive, but we already know that this government is incredibly tight when it comes to media relations.

What I wonder, though, is what they are doing with all this information once they filter it through six different government bodies? Is there some kind of Rendon-style ranking system carried out by the government? How does it impact who gets embedded, who gets leaks, who’s invited to sensitive press briefings, etc? The article notes that the Privy Office has directly approved or nixed interviews, but doesn’t go so far as to link type of coverage with access.

CP says it got its information through an Access to Information request; hopefully they’ll be digging a little bit deeper…

Written by Tim McSorley

September 14, 2009 at 12:22 am

Hanlon Creek occupation update

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Since the beginning of the direct action against the HCBP, there was a clearly agreed-upon conclusion that this occupation was first and foremost to be a space of resistance. This was to ensure a “safe and healthy space” focused on the defense of the land, and to forgo all possibilities of reason for police intervention, such as substance abuse or partying. This was to define all camp activities. The point was to maintain a sense of purpose and direction for a potentially tense political situation that seemed inevitable and to continue to examine the place of action against the HCBP in a wider resistance movement.

That’s from “Protect Mother Earth, Don’t Settle For Less” by Adam Lewis, a new article posted at The Dominion presenting a first hand look at the occupation of the proposed area for the Hanlon Creek Business Park on the outskirts of Guelph, written by one of the participants. I’ve been meaning to post an follow-up to my previous post about this for a while now, and this piece gives me a good reason to.

After nearly a month, the City of Guelph announced that developments in the area will be put on hold for a year. But even in doing so they continued their slander campaign against the occupiers, claiming that they ‘held the city hostage’. This pushed even the local daily, the Guelph Mercury, to call the city on their scare tactics. The city is also pursuing the land defenders for $150,000 in damages, down from an original $5 million when the papers were first served in July; city lawyers say the amount could rise again though.

And after hand delivering a letter to the house of one of the developers involved in the project, two members of Friends of Hanlon Creek (it isn’t clear if they participated in the occupation itself) are being accused of intimidation by police; they deny the charges and voluntarily visited the police station, only to be greeted by a locked door and to be told that they would have to come back the next day.

So while the fist part of the battle has been won – postponing the actual development – it seems that the city and police are bent on vilifying this group of non-violent activists looking to protect important and increasingly rare greenspace and habitats in Southern Ontario. You can continue to follow the situation – and what they describe as the growing anti-development sentiment in Guelph in general – on their blog at

Written by Tim McSorley

September 12, 2009 at 12:55 am

Music to get evicted to: L’Homme parle – La Crise

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Just came across this great tune and video, La Crise, by l’Homme parle, via Zik’n’Blog.

If you have time, I’ve pasted the rest after the jump… definitely worth the read!

UPDATE: The more I find out about this band the more I like. From their bio:

Enfants du métissage des cultures et du brassage des ethnies, « L’Homme parle » est le symbole d’une jeunesse unie contre les offensives capitalistes et contre toutes les formes d’oppression et de discrimination. Tout le monde est appelé à agir et à parler pour changer les choses au quotidien et aspirer à plus d’humanité. Le poing en l’air et le mic à la main, « L’Homme parle » des combats à mener et des causes perdues, des paradis artificiels et des pièges du monde moderne, des moments de bonheur et de l’amertume de la vie… et de l’amour qu’on néglige trop souvent.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Tim McSorley

September 8, 2009 at 12:15 am