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Political Science Economic Policy

Pipe Dreams

The Fight for Canada's Energy Future

by (author) Jacques Poitras

Penguin Group Canada
Initial publish date
Sep 2018
Economic Policy, Sustainable Development, Economic Development
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2018
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Winner of the 2018 Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick Book Award for Non-Fiction
Shortlisted for the 2018 Writers' Trust Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing
Shortlisted for the 2019 JW Dafoe Book Prize
A timely chronicle of how Canada's oil pipelines have become hotbeds for debate about our energy future, Indigenous rights, environmental activism, and east-west political tensions.

Pipe Dreams is the dramatic story of the rise and fall of the Energy East pipeline and the broader battle over climate and energy in Canada. The project was to be a monumental undertaking, beginning near Edmonton, AB, and stretching over four thousand kilometres, through Montreal to the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, NB. Conceived as a back-up plan for the stalled Keystone XL pipeline, it became the crucible for a national debate over the future of oil.

In a cross-country journey, Poitras talked to industry executives, prairie ranchers, First Nations chiefs, mayors, premiers, cabinet ministers, and refinery workers. He also explored Canada's perplexing oil relationship with the United States: our industry is literally tied to its American counterpart with sinews of steel. The Energy East pipeline represented a new direction, designed to get Alberta oil sands crude to lucrative world markets. Yet it was promoted in explicitly nationalist terms: the country was said to be reorienting itself along its east-west axis, tying itself together, again, with a great feat of engineering.

By the time the journey ended, the story had become a kind of whodunit: Poitras witnessed the slow-motion killing of the fifteen billion dollar project. Unfolding in tandem with clashes over the Trans Mountain pipeline, Energy East's demise heralded a potential turning point not just for a single proposal, but for Canada's carbon economy.

Entertaining, informative, and insightful, Pipe Dreams offers a clear picture of the complicated political, environmental, and economic issues that Canadians face.

About the author

A seasoned political reporter for CBC Radio, Jacques Poitras has received the top national feature reporting award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association of Canada two years in a row. His work has also been honoured by the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He has appeared on National Public Radio in the United States as well as the BBC. With his credentials, insight, and knowledge of New Brunswick politics, there is no better person to have written The Right Fight, a truly Canadian story.

Jacques Poitras' profile page


  • Short-listed, Dafoe Book Prize
  • Short-listed, Shaughnessy Cohen Award for Political Writing
  • Winner, New Brunswick Book Award - Non-Fiction

Excerpt: Pipe Dreams: The Fight for Canada's Energy Future (by (author) Jacques Poitras)


People like Lori Goodrich—who in the fall of 2009 “got wind,” as she put it, that Canadian Pacific Railway would demolish its derelict train station at the edge of town. Word gets around fast in a town of seven hundred people. Goodrich, an amateur historian, was more alarmed than most. The CPR had made Hardisty: in 1904, the railway chose a location near the Battle River as the site of a freight depot where equipment and horses could be loaded onto cars on the new Edmonton–Saskatchewan branch line. People poured in, and in 1911 the town, named for Richard Hardisty, a Hudson’s Bay fur trader who negotiated with Louis Riel and became Alberta’s first senator, was incorporated. “The population then was probably bigger than it is now,” Goodrich told me. Hardisty became a rail–farm hub and a commercial connection to the wider world; the station was a monument to that history. “It was the last one of this design left in Alberta,” she said. “It was the oldest building in Hardisty, and it was rundown. Terrible. We took it upon ourselves to save it.”

Goodrich recruited several family members and they went to work. They bought the station for a dollar, had it lifted and trucked a half kilometre to a new location near the town’s main intersection, and then spent most weekends over the next couple of years sprucing it up. “We left the original walls, but we gutted it.” They made one room available for a local wellness program and rented another for conferences. Oil companies used it for meetings. Tea, coffee, and smoothies were served, and the station became a going concern. But in 2012 the labour of love became a burden when Goodrich’s brother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and they sold the station to a local entrepreneur. Clayton Hinkey agreed to maintain the building “as close to the original as possible” as he transformed it into a sports bar called the Leaf, which catered mainly to workers in Hardisty’s oil and gas industry.

Lori Goodrich had the open, outgoing demeanour typical of the local do-gooder. Her gold jewellery reflected her sunny disposition as the cool light of the early afternoon seeped through the windows of the Leaf. The place was buzzing, even in the post-lunch lull. A sign outside advertised for servers, cooks, and kitchen staff. Despite the recent drop in oil prices—we met in September 2016, when oil was just over forty dollars a barrel—the town was busy. “Overall, Hardisty never really gets dead or slow,” Goodrich’s nephew, Jeff Golka, told me. “It just keeps humming along. There’s enough industry here now.” New motels had opened, as had a new restaurant on Main Street, and the hardware store had a new owner who was expanding the place. “There are so many major companies here,” Golka said, “there’s always something going on.” Golka’s optimism was an occupational necessity: he was the local real estate agent, with a big sign out by the provincial highway. But Hardisty did tend to ride out short-term busts in the oil sector. The big oil sands projects were long-term ventures, built to recoup their investment over decades. “When prices decline to unprofitable levels on a short-term basis, they still produce with an expectation that profitability will return on a long-term basis,” said Ben Brunnen, an economist with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. The product had to keep moving, and when it moved, it moved through Hardisty.

“Calgary has had the highest hit in staffing and downturns, because that’s where they start, at the corporate level,” Anita Miller, the mayor, told me. “Here, luckily, most of these companies have hardly had any layoffs.” Companies like Gibson Energy were still building new storage tanks. “There definitely isn’t as much construction,” Miller said. “Our town isn’t as busy. But the hotels and restaurants are still getting good business. That’s how they make their living, from all the transient workers who are here building a tank or connecting a tank.”

The real danger was long-term decline. Boom-bust cycles were a fact of life in Alberta’s oil sector, but if prices never rebounded, then the construction of new oil sands projects would slow down, and eventually, so would Hardisty. Jeff Rubin, the former chief economist with the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, warned in 2015 that the price crash signalled “there was no longer an economic context for the huge expansion planned for oil sands production.” Goodrich was seeing indicators: car dealers, used to customers trading for new trucks every couple of years, were calling their regulars to come in and make a deal. Her husband, Ed, an oil field consultant, had steady work for fifteen years, but for nine months in 2015 he found himself at home with nothing to do. After a few weeks’ work, he was off again for another long stretch. “This is going to go on for a long time before we ever see the industry turn around to where it’s boom times again,” Goodrich said.

There was one thing that would have helped, one bit of potential good news that Goodrich had been convinced would give Hardisty, and Alberta, a boost. She’d wanted federal and provincial leaders to adopt some of the town’s can-do spirit, the same spirit that had saved the train station, and get a new oil pipeline approved. Construction would boost the local economy and get Alberta’s oil to lucrative foreign markets. “People started gearing up for that, as you can see—all the motels and everything that started up here a couple of years ago,” Goodrich said. But the new line, Keystone XL, never arrived. Existential shivers went down the town’s spine. Some experts said that if oil was facing a long-term decline, it was all the more urgent that Alberta get its oil out of the ground quickly and shipped to the coast for the higher world price—before demand dropped off for good.

Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper, a 1600-kilometre pipeline from Hardisty to the port of Superior, Wisconsin, had been approved with little controversy in 2009. But now, pipelines—just a conduit for the product, in the view of the people of Hardisty—had become an easy target for environmental activists, and weren’t being authorized as readily as they had been. “It’s all politics,” Goodrich said with a rueful little shake of her head. “Unfortunately, the provincial and federal leaders right now don’t get it.” Even people in the industry didn’t understand at first, she said. “They’re getting it now.”

Editorial Reviews

Winner of the 2018 Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick Book Award for Non-Fiction
Shortlisted for the 2018 Writers' Trust Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing
Shortlisted for the 2019 JW Dafoe Book Prize

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