Amid an increasingly high-profile U.S. campaign against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs says American politicians have a choice: Take Canada's oil, or watch it go elsewhere.
"If the Americans choose to decline the promise that Keystone XL represents, there are many other countries and many other markets for our oil," John Baird told a Chamber of Commerce crowd made up largely of oil and gas executives in Calgary on Friday.
"New emerging economic forces in the Asia-Pacific region offer tremendous opportunities … for all kinds of Canadian companies."
The Conservative government has grown increasingly vocal in its support of the $7-billion TransCanada Corp. pipeline, which would bring oil sands crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Critics have argued that the pipe will endanger important aquifers, and have marshalled actors and Nobel prize winners to support their cause.
Canadian diplomats and high-level government officials have worked behind the scenes to counteract their message, Mr. Baird said.
"This project is incredibly important to Canada, it's incredibly important to Canadians and it's incredibly important to the government of Canada," he said.
Indeed, energy has become a major Conservative foreign affairs focus, said Mr. Baird, who took on his current portfolio in May.
For example, he pointed to Canada's relationship with China as "a clear priority," and said oil and gas exports and investments are among the key elements at play there.
"I'll be working to strengthen our ties with China in areas that include trade, energy and governance," he said.
In Libya, too, the Conservative government has worked hand-in-hand with Canadian oil interests, he said. "We need to get Suncor in," he said.
Suncor Energy Inc. owns Libyan oil assets worth $400-million. Earlier this week, Suncor chief executive Rick George said he did not know the condition of those assets, which produced about 35,000 barrels a day of oil before shutting down operations in the midst of the violent revolution.
But, Mr. Baird said, Suncor has "been beginning to re-establish communications, and certainly we have been aggressively pushing Canadian interests with the new [Libyan]government."
For example, in a global summit on Libya last week, he and prime minister Stephen Harper "brought a number of senior business leaders with us, and we were able to sit down with representatives of Libya's government to try to get some of the Canadian projects that have been stalled restarted and completed," Mr. Baird said.
Ottawa has also been "working closely" with firms like SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. "to ensure they can get back in as soon as possible," he said.