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The Globe and Mail

Alberta, Ottawa press Central Canada on west-east pipeline

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice tells reporters that his government will balance its budget despite low oil prices, in Banff on Saturday, November 15, 2014.


The Alberta and federal governments are planning a new push to persuade skeptics in Central Canada that a proposed $12-billion oil pipeline will deliver them more benefits than it will pose risks.

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice plans to travel to Quebec City and Toronto in early December to meet Quebec and Ontario's premiers, who last week spelled out a joint list of seven criteria that TransCanada Corp.'s Energy East project must satisfy to secure their support.

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant is signalling he is prepared to meet those principles, saying the pipeline can be built in such a way that it mitigates environmental concerns.

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Following a meeting with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in Toronto Monday, Mr. Gallant said the criteria she and her Quebec counterpart Philippe Couillard had laid out are "very, very reasonable" and "achievable." He said the pipeline could be built in "an environmentally sound way."

"I think that everyone would agree with them," he told reporters following the half-hour tête-à-tête at Ms. Wynne's Queen's Park office. "It's important for us to look at, long-term, how we're going to ensure that we still have a very strong plan to tackle climate change."

Ms. Wynne and Mr. Couillard included in their list of criteria an assessment of climate change, and whether the expansion of oil production and transportation across the country is consistent with Canada's commitment to significantly reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions.

So far, Ms. Wynne and Mr. Couillard have remained vague about what exactly the pipeline's proponents would have to do to mitigate concerns about its contribution to global warming. It is possible, for instance, that Energy East could be used as a bargaining chip in talks over building greenhouse gas reduction into a national climate strategy, with Ontario and Quebec supporting the pipeline in exchange for tougher action to fight global warming.

On Monday, the Ontario Premier struck a conciliatory note, suggesting there is a way forward for Energy East if TransCanada can meet its conditions.

"We understand that we are connected, that Alberta needs to move its resource, and that Ontario and Quebec and New Brunswick are part of that endeavour," Ms. Wynne said. "But there are some principles that we need to adhere to. We need to make sure that the proper consultations are done, that First Nations communities are part of the discussion and are beneficiaries. We need to make sure that the issues around climate change and environmental protections are in place."

TransCanada is facing mounting opposition to the Energy East project, particularly in Quebec, where the company plans to build an export terminal near beluga calving grounds in the St. Lawrence River and where support for tough climate action is strongest in the country. In addition to insisting that a greater focus be placed on climate change, Ms. Wynne and Mr. Couillard said TransCanada must also include world-leading safety and environmental standards, appropriate consultations with First Nations and assurances that central Canadian natural-gas consumers won't be hurt.

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With the 4,600-kilometre pipeline, TransCanada would convert capacity on its west-to-east natural-gas pipeline between Alberta and Quebec, and construct new pipeline through Quebec and New Brunswick, with terminals at Cacouna, Que., and Saint John.

The Alberta Premier said Sunday it is essential for oil producers in his province to reach new markets by pipeline. However, Mr. Prentice said he is prepared to work with his Quebec and Ontario colleagues on a national strategy, including the highest environmental standards for pipelines and Alberta's own climate policy.

Mr. Prentice, who took over as Premier in September, said Albertans are determined to see the crude produced in the province exported off the North American continent.

He noted that Alberta is already one of the few jurisdictions to impose a carbon price on oil producers – $15 a tonne when operators exceed their regulated targets – and has invested $1.3-billion in carbon-capture technology that is touted internationally as a key tactic for reducing emission from fossil-fuel combustion.

But he acknowledged that more needs to be done. By the end of the year, his government will release its new price for the carbon levy, and will issue a draft policy on energy, the environment and carbon.

"Alberta as we move forward is interested in being a constructive player in terms of the environment and climate change, nationally, continentally and internationally," he said. But he added that the province won't unilaterally impose levies or regulations that would cripple the competitiveness of its most important industry.

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Environmentalists say the current pace of growth in oil sands production would make it virtually impossible for Canada to meet its commitment to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020, a conclusion shared by the now-defunct National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy.

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