HIS 2PP3 (2023) — Harrison + Braden

Intro: 1956 Pipeline Debate


In Canada, the 1956 Pipeline Controversy was an important political and economic problem. The development of a pipeline to transmit natural gas from Alberta to central Canada was the topic of discussion. While central Canada struggled with a lack of energy supplies in the 1950s, Alberta had a natural gas abundance To solve this problem, the former Canadian minister of trade and commerce, C.D Howe, put forward the idea of building the TransCanada Pipeline, a pipeline that would carry natural gas from Alberta to Ontario and Quebec directly to Canadian consumers (6). The proposed pipeline route, however, would have crossed multiple provincial boundaries, and the project's potential effects on economic growth worried provincial governments and citizens alike. Many people felt as though C.D Howe was selling out to American interests under the guise of Canadian patriotism, and this brought outrage (8).


Judith Robinson’s coverage of the pipeline debate both encapsulates and, in some circumstances, conveys the opposition to the project (8). The pipeline's backers contended that it would boost Canada's economy by opening up new markets and lowering its reliance on foreign markets. However, opposition expressed worries about the pipeline's social effects because people would write to the newspapers expressing how money being used to build the pipeline should be used to fix roads (9). The Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent and his Liberal government argued in favor of the project, while the Conservative Party and various provincial governments opposed it (6). The controversy over the pipeline became a prominent issue in the 1957 federal election . Ultimately, the pipeline was approved, and work on it started in 1958. After the project's completion in 1959, central Canada gained access to a significant energy supply that helped the country's economy expand and flourish (10). The fight over the pipeline, however, brought to light Canada's federal-provincial conflicts as well as the difficulties in managing interprovincial resource projects.


The motivations for and against the pipeline, were extremely significant on understanding the political landscape at that time and views people had on building the pipeline. When one takes a look at Clarence Decatur Howe, known as C.D. Howe who was a prominent Minister of Trade and Commerce who played a significant role where he negotiated agreements with provincial governments and the private sector for the trans-Canada pipeline (7). He was approaching end of his term where he saw the pipeline as the last great battle where he always believed in having one big project ahead, to which he could bend his mind and his energies and could not be better shaped to his heart's desire (7). These were his motivations for building the pipeline, it would help him feel complete, he was doing it more himself than for the benefit for the citizens of Canada. When we look at the motivations/cause for concern from Judith Robinson’s perspective one quickly that she thought it was a sell-out of Canadian interests (8). In addition, she thought they were misusing tax-payer money to build the pipeline, and that she was completely against how prime minister Laurent kept asking for money to sort out financing problems (9). She thought they C.D Howe and Louis Laurent should be using the tax-payer money to solve the social issues that the people had, such as fixing the roads, building recreation centres, and swimming pools (9).

Proposal Question

This ultimately makes one raise the question what does studying Judith Robinson’s coverage/comments on the pipeline debate tell us about core concerns in Canadian politics in the mid-1950s?