Prentice gives Canada a pipeline pep talk

Alberta’s premier is urging the country to get behind several controversial pipeline projects linked to the province’s oilsands, warning that all Canadians will “feel the pain” if they aren’t approved and built soon.

VANCOUVER — Alberta’s premier is urging the country to get behind several controversial pipeline projects linked to the province’s oilsands, warning that all Canadians will “feel the pain” if they aren’t approved and built soon.

Premier Jim Prentice told a business audience in Vancouver that energy development such as Alberta pipelines, B.C. liquefied natural gas terminals and Quebec hydroelectric developments will be at the heart of Canada’s economic future.

In particular, Prentice said the country’s existing pipelines will be full by the end of the decade. Without increased capacity, producers would be forced to sell Canadian oil at deep discounts, he said, which in turn would eat into government royalties and taxes.

“So it’s realistic to look ahead and to say Canada’s public services will feel the pain if and when we allow this to happen,” Prentice said during an event hosted by the Vancouver Board of Trade.

“In fact, all Canadians will feel the pain as and when this begins to happen.”

The premier pointed to the Northern Gateway, Trans Mountain, Keystone XL and Energy East pipelines, which he described as “nation-building.”

Prentice was sworn in as Alberta’s premier in September, and he inherited the increasingly difficult task of selling new pipeline projects to the rest of Canada.

The premiers of B.C., Ontario and Quebec have all attached conditions for any pipelines crossing their provinces.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark has long maintained that projects such as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline and Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion of its Trans Mountain line would need to meet several criteria, including robust spill response, First Nations approval and a “fair share” of benefits for her province.

Late last month, Premier Kathleen Wynne of Ontario and Premier Philippe Couillard of Quebec released a list of seven conditions for Trans Canada’s proposed Energy East pipeline. Those conditions include emergency response measures, First Nation consultations, and consideration of the impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

Prentice plans to meet with Wynne and Couillard separately this week.

“I don’t want to prejudge those discussions,” he said after his speech on Monday.

“I’ve had preliminary and positive discussions with both the premier of Ontario and the premier of Quebec, and I’ll wait to see what they have to say.”

Prentice met with Clark in early November. The pair did not hold any formal meetings during Prentice’s visit this time, though they did see each other at Sunday’s Grey Cup game in Vancouver.

Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion project has recently been overshadowed by protests from environmentalists and First Nations, who set up an encampment at the site of drilling work on Burnaby Mountain, near Vancouver.

Prentice said Alberta, too, is concerned about responsible development that minimizes the impact on the environment and climate change.

“I think all Canadians would expect that if we’re going to export hydrocarbons, either from the East Coast or the West Coast of Canada, that we would have absolutely top-notch environmental standards,” he said.

With respect to First Nations, Prentice said it’s important their concerns be taken into account.

“My views are well-known: we need to secure economic opportunities and partnership opportunities for First Nations associated with these projects,” said Prentice, who served as minister of Indian affairs, as the portfolio was previously known, during his time as a Conservative MP.

Along with the environmental and First Nations issues, another common concern is that other jurisdictions bear the risks of the pipelines once they leave Alberta but receive comparatively little benefit.

Clark’s demand for a “fair share” of pipeline benefits soured her relationship with former Alberta premier Alison Redford. They later agreed Alberta would not share any royalties with B.C., and instead Clark would need to seek any financial compensation from the industry.

Prentice said those benefits will come from the terminals that serve as the end point for the proposed pipelines. Local governments along the routes also collect property taxes, he noted.

“There has to be a port facility, and that port facility is never located in Alberta,” he said. “The economic opportunities are being created elsewhere.”

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