Rachel Notley Says She Doesn't Want To Strain National Unity Over Pipelines

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WASHINGTON — The premier of Alberta says she has no interest in turning the current pipeline debate into an inter-provincial shouting match that strains national unity.

Rachel Notley said she intends to have a respectful conversation based on the facts, allowing both sides of the issue to feel like they've been heard.

Ongoing pipeline proposals have caused tension with neighbouring B.C., become a hot topic for the Parti Quebecois and prompted Saskatchewan's premier to express annoyance with Quebec.

A tense topic

Notley said she'll avoid finger-pointing.

"Canada is a collection of provinces. Historically some people play that feature off against one another. I don't think that's typically resulted in progress,'' she said in an interview Thursday.

"It is not in any way, shape or form the appropriate frame for this conversation. And we're not going to do that with it.''

NEB review

The National Energy Board has just announced that a review into the biggest of the ongoing pipeline projects, TransCanada's Energy East, should be completed by March 2018 after consultations with communities along the route; amid vocal opposition in Quebec, the provincial government there has agreed to conduct a separate review.

Notley said the conversation should be based on facts — about safety, the environment, and the economy. And she said people's concerns should be heard.

"Those communities have a right to ask those questions. We're not going to question their right — or fight with them over their right. That doesn't help engage in conversation — suggesting they're not allowed to have it,'' she said.

"Those communities have a right to ask those questions."

Notley made the remarks during a trip to Washington, where pipelines are not high on her agenda this week. She's actually in the U.S. to help spread the word about her government's climate-change plan.

Her goal: change environmental perceptions about Alberta.

Opposition to the province's oilsands grew here during the years-long Keystone XL debate. Now Notley wants Americans to know about her NDP government's $30-a-tonne carbon tax, 100 million-tonne cap on oilsands emissions and plan to phase out coal.

She'll meet with a White House environmental official; the head of the Center for American Progress, a prominent progressive think tank that opposed Keystone XL; and the Republican head of the Senate energy committee. She's also delivering a public speech Thursday evening.

"I think we have an important, important story to tell."

"If I leave here with people going, 'Oh, isn't Alberta doing something that maybe we should take a look at, maybe even learn from, and they're kind of doing the right stuff now,' then that's a win,'' she said.

"I think we have an important, important story to tell. And it's not just a story. That's the new thing. It's real. We have significant action we're taking on climate change.''

Alberta's emissions would not actually decline under her plan — just grow slower than previously projected. Canada's overall emissions are growing, too, and remain far above long-term targets.

Working to change perceptions

The premier said she knows perceptions won't change overnight. But she's keen on speaking to audiences ignored by the former Conservative governments in Ottawa and Edmonton.

Asked about her long-term goal — will Alberta's green initiatives buy support for future pipelines into the U.S. — Notley said that's not her focus now.

She wouldn't get drawn into speculating about some future version of Keystone XL.

The Republican presidential candidates support Keystone, which was cancelled by President Barack Obama. The Democrats running for president both oppose it.

"I'm not a big fan of hypothetical questions,'' she said.

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