Danielle Smith, leader of Alberta's Wildrose Party, is calling for the establishment of an energy corridor across northwestern Canada to make it easier for industry to get oil, liquefied natural gas and hydroelectricity to market.
Ms. Smith rolled out her "big idea" at a speech in Vancouver on Thursday, saying the current system – in which each project proposes its own route and generates its own review process – is so slow that it is threatening to drag down Alberta's energy-dependent economy.
"We still have economic growth and Alberta continues to lead the country in job creation … but if we can't get access to markets we're just not going to be able to attract the investment," she said. "That causes me great angst and worry because … if Alberta ends up seeing our economy stall, or go stagnant, or decline I question what would happen to the rest of the country."
Ms. Smith said her proposal isn't specific to Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, which is awaiting a final decision by federal cabinet, but rather is aimed at finding a way to make it easier to develop projects over the next 10 to 50 years.
Asked about Ms. Smith's proposed energy corridor, B.C. Premier Christy Clark said any pipeline, regardless of its route, would have to meet the province's list of conditions for supporting heavy oil projects.
"The most important thing for creating increased access for heavy oil to the coast is meeting the five conditions," said Ms. Clark, who was at an event in Vancouver near where Ms. Smith spoke.
B.C. has said before any heavy oil pipeline gets built it needs to have National Energy Board approval, establish both world-leading oil spill prevention and response systems, meet aboriginal treaty rights and provide a "fair share" of the economic benefits to B.C.
"Whether or not they have identified a corridor [is] not the first question that needs to be answered," Ms. Clark said.
Ms. Smith, who didn't meet with Ms. Clark, said getting energy projects approved in Canada has become too difficult.
"When you want to build, you have to ask. But today, that answer is increasingly 'no.' No pipelines. Too dangerous. No plants. Too toxic. No ports. Too big. No roads. Too noisy. No power lines. Too ugly … It's almost reflexive. Growth has somehow become inherently bad. And as a pro-growth optimist who believes in the power of progress, this really does trouble me," she said. "I believe we should start discussing a national market access strategy that creates dedicated commercial corridors for transportation and industrial activity."
Ms. Smith called for a one-kilometre-wide right-of-way "essentially cutting through northwest Canada from Northern Ontario and Manitoba to the West Coast."
She said an established energy corridor would mean quicker processing for projects, because conflicts with First Nations, municipal governments and questions over environmental impact could be worked out in advance, so that each new project wouldn't have to start from scratch.
There are currently two oil pipelines and 14 LNG projects proposed in B.C.
"Rather than have industry come up with a multitude of ideas, proposals and routes that would ultimately wind up in a series of endless hearings, politicians would take the lead and settle as many issues as possible in advance," Ms. Smith said.
"Imagine the potential. A swath of land dedicated to the movement of our most precious and valuable natural resources. This could be the most exciting employment and industrial development in B.C. history," she said. " [It] will be for this century what the St. Lawrence Seaway project was for the previous one and maybe even what the Canadian Pacific Railway was for the one before that."
Asked if she favoured having the federal government expropriate the land needed for such a corridor, as it did in the 1800s under the Railway Act to speed railway construction, Ms. Smith said she'd oppose that approach and would rather see the land bought at fair market value.
"If you are going to actually do a project like this you have to be prepared to purchase the land up front," she said.