Wednesday, April 21, 2021
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Leong: No, the ‘eastern bastards’ might not freeze in the dark

Leong: No, the 'eastern bastards' might not freeze in the dark
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For the entire winter/spring semester of 1998, one of my classmates smelled like smoked ham.

Or maybe it was bacon.

Passing him in the hallway at school was almost enough to trigger hunger pangs.

After many weeks of this, I finally asked if he knew about his unconventional … uh … fragrance.

And that’s when the aha moment struck: his family had used wood to heat their home in January and the smoky smell was still lingering in his clothes, months later.

In the first days of January 1998, as you might recall, a catastrophic ice storm blanketed southern Quebec and eastern Ontario in a beautiful but destructive layer of ice, centimetres thick.

The once-in-a-lifetime storm brought down many powerlines that formed the backbone of Quebec’s electrical grid.

My family was lucky: we were only without power for six days. Some places had to make do without electricity for more than a month.

That my friend’s family was able to stay warm during the emergency was a bit of a novelty, as the vast majority of Quebecers relied on some form of electric heat.

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The prevalence of electric heat in some parts of Canada could explain, in part, why present-day Alberta is having so much trouble being heard on the topic of energy security.

Oil pipelines are back in the news after a brief hiatus.

With the Biden administration’s recent rejection of the Alberta-Nebraska Keystone XL pipeline and other political threats against the east-west Line 5 across Great Lake states, there’s renewed talk about how reliable existing systems are at ensuring a stable supply of oil and gas.

U.S. President Joe Biden signs a series of executive orders in the Oval Office — including an order withdrawing the construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline — on Jan. 20, 2021. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

There are even murmurs of an attempt to revive the long-dead Energy East pipeline project.

But the trouble now, as it has been in recent times, is to persuade people of the importance of oil and gas in the short and medium terms, despite the obvious shift away from such energy sources expected over the long term.

With much of North America being smothered by a mass of arctic air, some are smugly pointing out how pipelines are essential in providing the energy necessary to keep everyone toasty warm.

And in the past, it has been argued Alberta could flex its muscle by shutting off its oil and gas to demonstrate the importance of fossil fuels in people’s everyday lives.

This sort of tactic could work in Ontario, where a large number of homes rely on natural gas and oil for heat, according to the latest available (albeit slightly dated) data from Statistics Canada.

But the same message would likely fall on deaf ears in places like Quebec, where the vast majority of people rely on electric heat. The same goes for B.C., where a large chunk of the population uses something other than fossil fuels to stay warm.

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And wouldn’t you know it: those provinces are also large generators of emissions-free hydroelectric power. Residents in those places can heat their homes to their hearts’ content and justify their opposition to pipelines.

If there is to be a new push for a renewed Energy East or something else like it, there needs to be a new public relations tack to go with it.

Any campaign will be a waste of time if the message doesn’t make sense to the people Alberta is trying to reach — or if the message doesn’t reach them at all.

“Let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark” might make for a wonderful slogan on a bumper sticker.

But maybe it’s not so wonderful as the main message in a campaign of persuasion.

rleong@postmedia.com
On Twitter: @RickyLeongYYC

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