No promises from federal ministers on pipelines
Premier pitches Alberta’s position at Kananaskis, reaps praise
With the cloudy skies overhead matching Alberta's economic gloom, Liberal cabinet ministers meeting in the midst of the Rocky Mountains said the long-term prospects for the province getting its energy to new markets are looking brighter.
But both supporters and opponents of proposed pipelines — seen by Alberta as necessary relief for the province's economic woes — said the way forward for the projects remain obscure under the Liberal government.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet came to Alberta for a threeday retreat because the province has felt the brunt of the economic shock caused by low oil prices.
Following a briefing by Premier Rachel Notley on Sunday night and a full day of meetings Monday at the mountain resort, Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr, Calgary's representative at the cabinet table, said the importance of new markets is ever more clear.
“We've set the table to allow us a better chance of getting oil to tidewater and I sense our work over the course of the next while will see us having a better chance of doing that,” said Hehr.
“Can I say things dramatically changed in a day and a half? Probably not, but that work continues.”
Notley met with Trudeau Sunday night and addressed part of the Liberal cabinet, pitching new pipelines as an economic necessity for Alberta.
Alberta's economy is in the second year of recession and the government is projecting a $10.4-billion debt as oil prices stagnate under US$50 a barrel. New pipelines to coastal waters are seen as key for Alberta to open new markets and access better prices for its landlocked energy resources.
The premier drew strong reviews from the Liberal ministers, though no firm commitments were on offer.
“She's very effective. She has an argument and a story to tell and ministers were very keen to hear it,” said Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr. “I thought that everybody learned from it.”
The NDP government has backed the planned expansion of the Trans Mountain line to Vancouver and the proposed Energy East pipeline to New Brunswick.
But in recent days, Notley has also said she sees a possible future for the proposed Northern Gateway line to Kitimat on the northern coast of British Columbia, which the NDP previously had dismissed as having no chance of success in the face of concerted opposition in B.C. from First Nations and environmental groups
Under the former Conservative government, Gateway received tentative approval from the National Energy Board in 2014 based on its proponent, Calgary-based Enbridge, being able to meet more than 200 conditions.
But in opposition, Trudeau had rejected Northern Gateway and his government has committed to a moratorium on tanker traffic carrying crude oil on the northern coast of B.C.
Transportation Minister Marc Garneau said the government is steadily working towards implementing the moratorium, but would not give a timeline or say whether it is intended to be shortterm or a permanent ban on tankers carrying crude oil.
“We're working on all those things,” he said.
Blake Richards, the Conservative MP for Banff-Airdrie, said those kind of answers do nothing but further uncertainty in the energy industry.
He said the cabinet was welcome in Alberta, but “I don't see anything out of there that shows a real concern.”
“There needs to be some active support for a pipeline getting built,” Richards said in an interview.
In January, Carr and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced that Ottawa would overhaul how it evaluates pipelines, extending the regulatory timelines for TransCanada Corp.'s Energy East and Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain lines.
Cabinet retains final approval over the pipelines.
Beyond the latest resurgence of interest in Gateway, there have also been recent suggestions in the media the Trudeau government is working quietly to try to facilitate new pipelines.
There are also ongoing talks between Alberta and the B.C. government, which has brought forward five conditions for allowing a heavy oil pipeline, linking approval to the purchase of electricity.
But Kai Nagata, spokesman for the B.C.-based Dogwood Initiative, said talk about Gateway is a “distraction” intended to soften resistance to the Trans Mountain proposal.
A majority of residents in the province remain opposed to increased tanker traffic off the coast and any pipeline approval “would create a political earthquake in B.C.,” he said.
“There's no serious shift in the political or legal environment for pipelines,” said Nagata.