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Alberta Premier questions credibility of Northern Gateway hearings

A sign showing opposition to the $5.5-billion Enbridge oil pipeline from Alberta to the northwest coast of British Columbia sits on a property in Kitimat, B.C., on Thursday Jan. 12, 2012.


Alberta Premier Alison Redford is questioning the credibility of federal hearings that have attracted more than 4,000 people requesting comment on Enbridge Inc.'s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which has sparked a debate about balancing the economy against the environment and aboriginal rights.

The Alberta government will not be making a formal pitch during the National Energy Board's regulatory review, which started this week in northern British Columbia, but the province has made no secret of its support for the pipeline that would help bring oil-sands crude to markets in Asia and the United States.

Ms. Redford told reporters on Thursday that she supports the independent regulatory process, as she did when a similar review took place in the United States regarding the divisive Keystone XL pipeline project, but she has concerns about the transparency.

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"I believe that a regulatory process is important in order to ensure there's a fulsome discussion going on about the issues that need to be adjudicated. I'm not sure that this process that has been put in place is going to allow for that," she said.

Ms. Redford said the Harper government's attack on critics of the Gateway project raises a "very valid point." Both Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have accused opponents of having U.S.-based financial backers who are derailing the process in a bid to "undermine Canada's national economic interest."

"It's fine for people to have perspectives on these issues, but it's very important that if they are participating in the process, that that be a transparent process," Ms. Redford said.

The debate around Keystone featured certain groups that cared less about the pipeline than about weaning North America off oil, she continued. And much at the anti-oil campaign has been focused on Alberta's oil sands, which have been dubbed "dirty oil" by critics. (Politicians and citizens in Nebraska did raise serious environmental concerns about Keystone. That ultimately resulted in a new route plan that appeased local concerns, but the project has yet to receive approval from the Obama administration.)

"I don't know how we can track that in this process," Ms. Redford said, "but if people like that are looking to intervene in the process, it's important that the process be transparent enough that we know that that's their perspective when they get involved in this."

This week, B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon said Ottawa has a point in questioning whether environmentalists backed by foreign interests were behind the lobby efforts. B.C. Premier Christy Clark has been careful not to take a position, preferring to wait for the regulatory process to wrap up.

The federal joint review panel is expected to make a decision by the end of next year.

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About the Author
Dawn Walton

Dawn Walton has been based in Calgary for The Globe and Mail since 2000. Before leaving Toronto to head West, she won a National Newspaper Award and was twice nominated for the Michener Award for her work with the Report on Business. More

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