Canadian Manufacturing

PM Harper still pitching Alberta pipeline, whether Alberta wants it or not

Finance Minister Joe Oliver says Ottawa is happy to take over from Alberta's government when it comes to pitching the stalled Keystone project



OTTAWA—A new political reality has surfaced in which Ottawa is aggressively marketing an Alberta pipeline project that the new provincial government says it doesn’t even want.

Finance Minister Joe Oliver’s May 13 speech before a Wall Street crowd makes it clear Ottawa is happy to take over from the Alberta government when it comes to pitching the stalled Keystone XL project in the United States.

The federal Conservative government’s latest Keystone pitch comes just days after Alberta voters elected the NDP, and leader Rachel Notley has made it clear she won’t be taking part in the pipeline-promoting trips of her predecessors.

In his address, Oliver once again expressed the Conservative government’s exasperation with the delays in approving the project, which would transport Alberta oilsands bitumen to the U.S.

“To take full advantage of our energy wealth we need to access markets, which implies the construction of pipelines,” Oliver said in his speech, given at an event organized by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.

“That is why Canada finds it frustrating that it’s still awaiting presidential approval on the Keystone project.”

Following Notley’s stunning victory last week in Alberta, which gave the NDP a majority government, Ottawa appears to have lost a crucial partner in the effort to promote Keystone to the U.S.

Notley has said she doesn’t necessarily oppose pipelines, but when it comes to Keystone XL, she would rather see the oilsands bitumen refined in Canada instead of the U.S.

And unlike Alberta’s Progressive Conservative premiers of the past, Notley has said she’s prepared to let the Keystone XL debate in the U.S. play itself out.

Up until now, Albertan governments have been active in Washington, where they’ve marketed the region’s oil and the Keystone XL project. The province’s messaging has mirrored that of its own oil industry and Alberta has even spent money on lobbyists to help support the sector’s cause.

The province has also promoted the pipeline through its four-member diplomatic office in Washington, which could now face personnel changes under the new government.

The future of Keystone XL itself remains murky.

U.S. President Barack Obama has vetoed a bill to build the controversial pipeline, played down its importance for the American economy and described the method of producing oilsands crude in Canada as “an extraordinarily dirty way of extracting oil.”

Obama, however, has left his door open a crack. He has said his decision to veto the bill wasn’t the final word on the subject and he has yet to make a final decision.

Oliver’s speech shows that Ottawa remains hopeful. It hit notes from previous Keystone pitches from the Harper government, insisting the project would be safe for the environment and create jobs as well as economic growth in both countries.

“We hope it will be approved so Canada and America can move forward together,” he said.

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