MOOSE JAW, SASK. – As you head into town here, there’s bright yellow canola sprouting on one side of the highway, and bluish flax to be seen on the other side. There’s winter wheat, too, but it’s a bit harder to spot at this time of year.
The Saskatchewan sky goes on forever and ever, and it’s frankly more simply beautiful than anything you’ll see almost anywhere else. Our pilot, Dane, takes a hand off the wheel and waves in the direction of the canola and the flax and the wheat.
“Five bucks a bushel,” says Dane Friese, who pronounces his first name as Dean. Dane has lived in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and a few other places besides, and finally came home to Moose Jaw, flat broke, a few years ago. He now ferries folks between Regina’s airport and Moose Jaw. He points again at the crop.
“Saskatchewan is an agricultural province,” he says, while acknowledging the significance of potash. “And the farmers can’t even get their crop to market.”
The reason why is surprising – or, at least it was to his eastern visitors. All of the trains are ferrying oil to refineries, he says. Hardly anything else. So the crops stay warehoused in Saskatchewan grain elevators, and farmers can’t find an economical way to get it out.
Welcome to the Keystone XL/Northern Gateway paradox: in their (efficient and effective) campaign to demonize pipelines for Alberta oil, some environmentalists – aided and abetted by a lazy U.S. Congress, and the glamour of Hollywood stars – are hurting the environment-loving people who are closest to the land. Here, Saskatchewan farm families.
If the oil patch can’t ship their product via a pipeline, they find other ways. Oil’s like water; it always finds a way out.
So they send it east and west via rail. And, accordingly, there are no rail cars to carry Saskatchewan canola, wheat or flax to market.
Around here, all of this has resulted in a massive backlog of undelivered grain. The situation has grown so grave, Premier Brad Wall has demanded the federal government intervene. Saskatchewan farmers, he simply says, “would like to get paid for their hard work.”
Outside the Prairies, many Canadians and Americans are candid about all of this: they simply don’t care. They object to the existence of the tar sands, and wish to stop a pipeline at all costs. In Maine, just this week, city councillors in South Portland took steps to stop Alberta oil from being shipped through the state’s largest port.
They may not care about the implications for the families who live in or around Moose Jaw. But they should care, perhaps, about the possible consequences of oil being shipped by rail through the neighbourhoods where they live, and work, and raise their children.
The catastrophe that befell faraway Lac-Megantic provides the most powerful cautionary tale about allowing millions of barrels of oil to be shipped via rail car. People should know, by now, the dangers that are associated with the status quo.
A pipeline like Keystone would move enough oil, in a single day, to avoid having to make use of 4,200 railway cars to move the same amount. Lac-Megantic provides a compelling argument for finally doing so.
If that is not enough, those railway cars could also be to finally transport landlocked Saskatchewan grain to market, too.
That may not be as powerful a reason as Lac-Megantic. But the folks around here, like Dane, would appreciate it if you gave it some thought.