Alberta And Quebec To Work On Closer Energy Ties

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ALBERTA QUEBEC ENERGY
Alberta Premier Alison Redford, left, and Quebec Premier Pauline Marois exchange greetings as the premiers gather for an economic summit in Halifax on Thursday, November 22, 2012. The provinces have a vested interest in interprovincial oil flows with the possibility of oil from the West being piped to Eastern Canada. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan) | CP

Alberta and Quebec are setting up their own working group to study closer energy ties between the two provinces.

Both provinces' premiers are in Halifax for a meeting with their colleagues on the economy.

The conference begins in earnest on Friday, but Alison Redford and Pauline Marois held a brief pre-dinner meeting Thursday.

This is the first time the two premiers have met face to face. Both women emerged from the meeting laughing and smiling.

"We have agreed that there is some very good opportunity for us to exchange technical information around economic development, the environment and the technical development of resources," Redford said. "So we can have an informed conversation with respect to the possibility of future energy projects that would impact both Alberta and Quebec and possibly other parts of Canada."

Other premiers have mused about the benefits of moving Alberta's oil from west to east, instead of shipping it along proposed pipelines south to refineries in the United States or further west to a terminal on the British Columbia coast.

This comes as Alberta faces tension from B.C., where Premier Christy Clark is demanding a greater share of the revenues before the planned Northern Gateway pipeline gets the green light.

Neither Redford nor Marois used the word "pipeline," but the Quebec leader described their agreement as a win-win.

"I think it's important to have a working group on the issues of this, the economic issues on the energy," she said.

At the premiers' meeting over the summer, Redford was dealing with an open feud with Clark. This time, she appears to have found a new ally.

"Very soon Madame Marois will come to Alberta and we will have much longer talks," Redford said.

"But not before Christmas," Marois added.

Harper missed

When the premiers meet Friday morning in Halifax, one key person will be missing from the table: the prime minister.

The premiers decided in the summer to hold this special meeting on the state of the country's economy, and they issued an invitation to Stephen Harper to join them. Harper decided to remain in Ottawa.

"I meet with the premiers quite regularly. In fact I had 50 such meetings in the past year alone," he told the opposition during Thursday's question period in the House of Commons.

Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz will have one of those meetings next week.

And while Ghiz appreciates that opportunity, he said both levels of government benefit when they all sit down together. He pointed to the meeting Harper held in 2008 when the recession was beginning to hit.

"I don't want to call it a worse-case scenario when he calls the first ministers together. I want him to be a little proactive," Ghiz said.

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, who's chairing this week's meeting, said the invitation was not issued with the intention of making demands of the prime minister. But with a lot to talk about — from the deepening economic problems in Europe, to the fiscal cliff facing the United States, to Ottawa's own decision to delay a return to balanced budgets — Harper's absence is conspicuous, Dexter said.

"We all represent one of the engines of that economy, and if I were to refuse to meet with my stakeholders on any one of the issues, people would start to say, 'Why is this?' " Dexter told CBC News.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger had his own one-on-one meeting with Harper this week. He wants the prime minister at the table, he said, but understands why Harper might be hesitant.

"There's always been a concern that some of these meetings become, how can I say it, dramatic performances for certain individuals," Selinger said.

Nevertheless, Dexter said, the invitation to the prime minister is still open.

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