Economists say Energy East pipeline vital to New Brunswick economy

FREDERICTON – The growing national divide over the Energy East pipeline couldn’t come at a worse time for New Brunswick, which is already beset by a series of economic blows and needs a major project to create much needed jobs and revenue to turn around a flagging economy.

“It looks bad,” said University of New Brunswick economist David Murrell.

“It is a dark week we went through, and I’m hoping there can be an effective lobby set up to get the Canada East pipeline through,” he said.

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant will deliver his annual state of the province speech this week, but the outlook for the provincial economy is not overly promising, with a number of major resource projects in question.

Days after Potash Corp. announced it was closing its potash mine near Sussex indefinitely, Montreal-area mayors voiced opposition to the proposed $15.7-billion Energy East pipeline project, which would see western crude transported as far as the Irving Oil refinery and a proposed export terminal in Saint John, N.B.

New Brunswick’s Liberal government will deliver a budget next week and is already considering cuts to the public service, an increase in the HST and the introduction of highway tolls among the possible ways to address a structural deficit that hovers around $600 million.

The provincial government has been actively promoting the proposed Energy East pipeline as a way to generate revenue, thousands of jobs during construction and over 300 permanent positions.

Marie-Christine Bernard of the Conference Board of Canada said New Brunswick is banking on the project.

“New Brunswick has structural problems, large deficits, an aging population, and also young workers who leave the province to seek employment elsewhere in Canada,” she said.

“There hasn’t really been a major investment in the province in the last few years apart from Potash Corp. investing in the Sussex mine. So that would be very beneficial to the economy.”

But a group of Montreal-area mayors led by Denis Coderre came out last week against the project, arguing the environmental risks associated with the pipeline far outweigh the economic benefits.

New Brunswick Energy Minister Donald Arseneault said the project has already been delayed by two years and he hopes it won’t be delayed much more.

He wouldn’t say if he’s concerned that the project could be halted.

“I’m sure, whether it’s with Mr. Coderre around the table, or our government, or the federal government, I’m sure we can find a way to make that happen in a sustainable way,” Arseneault said Tuesday.