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‘All Canadians will feel the pain’ if pipeline opportunities missed: Prentice

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice waves to the gallery at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, on Nov. 17, 2014.

Jason Franson/The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice says Canada is running out of time to build four controversial pipelines to generate revenues that could pay for social services, but that the development agenda also has to protect the environment.

At best, Canada has until between 2017 and 2019 to complete the energy projects or face "bottlenecks" without the best prices for oil sands product, he told the Vancouver Board of Trade in a speech on Monday.

In particular, Mr. Prentice said he was referring to the Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion, Northern Gateway, Energy East and Keystone – all of which have roused a storm of protest by the environmental movement. About 100 activists were arrested in Burnaby, B.C. during exploratory work for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project that ended this past weekend.

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But Mr. Prentice, who has been premier since September, said pipeline development has to proceed – pointed advocacy he is likely to advance in the years ahead as he argues for the sector key to his province. "The four major proposed pipelines are amongst Canada's 21st century nation-building opportunities, right on our doorstep," Mr. Prentice said in remarks prepared for delivery to the board.

"And the rewards they will bring belong to all of us. But the window in which to secure those rewards won't stay open indefinitely."

Without the pipelines, Mr. Prentice said Canada's public services "will take the hit; all Canadians will feel the pain. And make no mistake, if we prove unable to meet global demand, then someone else will gladly do it instead."

The Premier said the oil sands economic impact is expected to be $3.8-trillion over the next quarter-century, with a half a trillion dollars in taxes sent to Ottawa over the same period.

"The tax revenue and royalties I speak of will fund pensions and pay for the public services Canadians use every day – roads, schools, utilities and especially health care, which I can't stress enough."

But Mr. Prentice added that expanding energy consumption will have consequences for the climate and environment so leadership in energy has to be matched by leadership in environmental protection.

"We recognize the responsibilities that come from being energy producers – and in Alberta we want to do our part," he said.

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That has included, he said, regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and a price on carbon. In the coming year, Mr. Prentice promised a "new vision" for Alberta's approach to energy, the environment and climate change.

He did not provide any specific details.

He also promised to work with other provinces and partners elsewhere on the continent and internationally.

"Greenhouse gases don't respect borders. Climate change is a global issue so no one can afford to work in isolation to address it. As provinces, we will need to work together and with the federal government to harmonize measures and reporting."

Mr. Prentice is headed to Ontario and Quebec this week to promote one of the projects, the $12-billion Energy East pipeline, proposed by TransCanada Corp., that would ship 1.1 million barrels of oil per day to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick.

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