TORONTO — Oil-rich Alberta’s success is not only a boon for the western economy, but can help boost all of Canada, and that’s why Canadians need to support the province’s energy expansion plans, says Finance Minister Ron Liepert.
In a speech to a Toronto business group Wednesday, Liepert asked that Ontario and other provinces back the oilsands and help Alberta gain access to new markets with a new national energy strategy.
“We must earn the social licence from Canadians to expand and produce this energy,” he said. “There’s too much at stake not to.”
Liepert’s message is the same one delivered to Bay Street by his boss — Conservative Premier Alison Redford — a few weeks ago. Redford urged a Canada-wide strategy to boost oilsands development and support the planned new pipelines needed to get that crude to American and U.S. refinery markets.
Much of the opposition to planned pipelines to the West Coast and bigger oilsands projects has come from environmentalists and other critics, many from outside Alberta.
Meanwhile, the latest census data showed that Canada’s population — along with economic power — is increasingly heading to Alberta and Saskatchewan as Canadians are lured West by the availability of jobs.
The results released last week show that for the first time, more Canadians now live west of Ontario than east of the province — 30.7 per cent compared to 30.6 per cent. Yukon had the biggest growth spurt at 11.6 per cent between 2006 and 2011, followed by Alberta at 10.8 per cent, nearly double the national average.
But supporting Alberta’s plans, he argued, would benefit all of Canada because one-third of the economic activity created by the oilsands occurs outside of Alberta.
Liepert noted that more than 23 per cent of oilsands-related jobs are outside the province and Ontario’s manufacturing sector will benefit as it supplies everything from steel pipes to construction materials, precision machinery and other products to oilsands companies.
The greatest risk to Alberta’s booming economy by 2020 is regulatory red tape that could prevent its oil from being shipped to new markets, Liepert said.
He argues that allowing new pipeline projects to ship oil to Asia would deliver huge benefits to the entire country.
The holdup of TransCanada Corp.’s (TSX:TRP) controversial Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. over environmental concerns “shows what can happen when you rely on one customer,” he said.
“Quite frankly we need to start paying closer attention to who else wants our oil,” he said.
China, South Korea and other fast-growing Asian countries are hungry for Canadian oil and liquefied natural gas and want to see pipelines built to the West Coast so tankers can carry the energy across the Pacific.
“No market is more important these days than Asia. Diversifying of our markets to Asia is fundamental to our country’s national interest.”
That’s why the Alberta government is supporting Enbridge’s (TSX:ENB) Northern Gateway Project across northern B.C. to Prince Rupert and U,S, pipeline giant Kinder Morgan’s expansion plans to the port of Vancouver.
“Both will deliver huge tax, economic and social benefits to the entire country,” he argued.
He dismissed the protests over the Keystone expansion as “noise” coming from “environmental extremists” and celebrities.
“We are also dealing with policies being developed by far away governments who’s goals may be noble, but who rely on exaggerated or just plain wrong information from environmental groups,” he said.
Meanwhile, Liepert also reiterated Alberta’s stance that Canada needs a cohesive national energy strategy.
“Currently, all of the provinces and territories have their own rules and regulations for energy development which makes large-scale projects cumbersome,” he said.