CALGARY - The controversial Northern Gateway pipeline project is of national importance and is critical to Canada's future economic strength, Alberta's premier said Friday.
Touting the project, along with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline into the United States, was a large part of Alison Redford's first major speech in Calgary since becoming premier.
"We need to be able to talk about why the success of this pipeline becomes critical to our economic success in the next two years. But we are going to have to separate the wheat from the chaff because we know there are going to be a number of interveners who have very particular political agendas," said Redford in a question and answer session following a lunch-hour address to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.
"The agenda that I think matters to most Canadians is the agenda for economic growth at a time when the rest of the world is in very uncertain circumstances and we just don't have to be."
Redford noted that more than 5,400 people have registered to speak at the hearings into the $5.5-billion Enbridge (TSX:ENB) Northern Gateway pipeline that, if built, would carry more than a half-million barrels of oil a day to the B.C. coast.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency said so many people have registered to speak in B.C. and Alberta that the review panel will visit some communities twice.
Most of the hearings will be held in communities along the route of the 1,200-kilometre pipeline.
But there will also be hearings in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria and the Queen Charlotte Islands.
Redford told the audience it shouldn't just be Alberta left alone to lobby on behalf of the proposal. She said it is of national importance for the project to go ahead.
"I don't think it's appropriate or even necessary for only Alberta or only Alberta interests to be out lobbying with respect to this pipeline. We're trying to ensure it succeeds. This is an issue that takes on national importance and my expectation with people in Ottawa including the prime minister is they understand that," she said.
"The primary difference needs to be a relationship with other parts of Canada that understands that we're not a chequebook," Redford said.
"We're actually part of what will be particularly in the next two years a critical resource that will allow the Canadian economy to thrive in a way that many others in the world won't."
Redford said she has purposely not lobbied in Washington, D.C., for the Keystone XL pipeline because it is a domestic process. She said she expects Canada to receive the same respect when the Northern Gateway hearings begin.
Supporters say the project would create jobs and new markets for Alberta oil, but opponents fear pipeline or oil tanker spills could devastate the environment.