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Quebec warms to Alberta's idea of energy partnership

Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Alberta Premier Alison Redford pass by Quebec City's Chateau Frontenac after a meeting on Wednesday.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec has changed its mind and now says it supports a national energy strategy as proposed by Alberta – as long as that strategy only involves the provinces and not Ottawa.

Quebec has long been opposed to a national strategy for fear that the federal government would dictate development policy in a sector over which the province claims jurisdiction. But after a meeting with his Alberta counterpart, Alison Redford, Premier Jean Charest said Quebec was willing to co-operate with the other provinces if the federal government is kept on the sidelines.

"We don't need the federal government to make that happen. … If there is going to be a federal role it should be at our invitation and not them intervening," Mr. Charest said during a joint news conference with Ms. Redford on Wednesday.

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Ms. Redford was in Quebec City, where she not only met Mr. Charest but also expressed her views to cabinet during its weekly meeting, an unprecedented move for an Alberta premier.

Ms. Redford is advocating a co-ordinated effort between provinces that would develop energy resources. Her approach includes boosting research, infrastructure projects and technology for sustainable development. The strategy would also seek to develop and facilitate the export of the provinces' energy resources.

"What I am asking provinces to do is to decide if we would like to take this further," Ms. Redford said.

While still in the early stages, it remained unclear what type of co-operation would be needed and how provinces with divergent interests could succeed in defining a common approach.

For instance, Quebec has vigorously opposed the federal government's offer of a $4.2-billion guaranteed loan to Newfoundland and Labrador to build an underwater transmission line for the export of electricity to the United States from the Lower Churchill Falls hydroelectric project. Quebec has argued that the federal intervention would create unfair competition for Hydro-Québec, an argument Newfoundland and Labrador has rejected.

Other areas of contention appear less problematic. Quebec and Alberta disagree on climate change as well Ottawa's recent decision to turn its back on the greenhouse-gas emission targets set in the Kyoto accord. Mr. Charest, who has been a strong defender of Kyoto, remains supportive of the development of the Alberta oil sands despite its impact on climate change. Instead, Mr. Charest has focused on Alberta's efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

"Quebec has in this area private and public resources and it is one area where we can co-operate [with Alberta]to develop new technologies and improve our environmental record," Mr. Charest said.

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The provinces may agree to define a strategy on their own but at some point federal participation may be required. For instance, Alberta faces a major challenge in its bid to sell oil to China as it moves to obtain a federally regulated pipeline through British Columbia, where opposition to the project is growing.

Last summer, federal, provincial and territorial energy ministers met in Kananaskis, Alta., to begin setting the terms for a national energy strategy. But given Quebec's opposition to Ottawa's participation, the project had little chance of succeeding.

Alberta's approach has persuaded Quebec to come on board. But Ms. Redford was careful to explain that she had no intention of forcing anyone's hand.

"It is not at all a plan to try and control a sector," Ms. Redford said. "I have to ask everyone to think of this as a Canadian energy strategy and not a national energy strategy. I see the objectives as quite different."

She explained that unlike a "national strategy" that would be controlled by Ottawa, a "Canadian" strategy would recognize the provinces' jurisdiction over their resources without precluding a commitment to co-operate. "That is what a Canadian energy strategy is all about," Ms. Redford said.

The provincial and territorial premiers get together next week in Victoria at a meeting of the Council of the Federation, at which Ms. Redford said she will discuss her proposal. The issue is not on the official agenda but it will certainly be part of informal discussions, she said.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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