TORONTO - Alberta's premier is calling on the provinces and Ottawa to form a united front on oil, gas and other forms of Canadian-produced energy as the country looks to expand the market for its oil and gas beyond the United States.
Alison Redford said in a speech Wednesday in Toronto that the troubles surrounding development of the Keystone pipeline in the U.S. are an example of why Canada needs to look to energy-hungry markets in Asia and elsewhere.
"I think the indecision around the Keystone XL pipeline demonstrates the necessity of looking to new markets," she said of the U.S. government delay of a decision on whether TransCanada Corp. can build a massive pipeline south of the border.
However, she told reporters after the speech to the Economic Club of Canada that she is not seeking a policy shift away from the U.S., the country's primary trading partner — rather, she wants to open up to new markets such as China and India as well.
Her remarks came during a flood of activity in the oil pipeline industry as companies look for ways to move growing supplies from the oilsands to market.
Earlier Wednesday, Enbridge Inc. (TSX:ENB) said it would pay US$1.15 billion for a half-stake in an existing pipeline from the Gulf Coast and reverse its flow to relieve a build-up of oil storage in Cushing, Okla.
Enbridge rival TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP), meanwhile, said it may be possible to build the southern leg of its Alberta-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline as early as next year in a move also designed to drain supplies from Cushing.
Redford said both of those developments were encouraging.
She said TransCanada's move to build the southern leg will demonstrate that it is possible to build pipeline infrastructure that is environmentally sustainable.
Enbridge's move is an example of the innovations coming out of Alberta in terms of looking for options to expand its influence, she added.
The premier said she wants to play a more prominent role in forming a national energy strategy, adding she is acutely aware that her language, and that of all Canadian politicians on energy, is being watched south of the border.
"From an Alberta perspective, we're in a position where we can take a role in leading that conversation," she said.
"It may be that Canadians don't have the perspective that we've done that in the past, but it's very much what I would like to do now, and we will do it in the future."
But Redford added that all of the provinces have a role to play in the successful export of Canadian oil and gas and other forms of energy.
She said she'd like to see an open cross-country dialogue on issues such as innovation and environmental sustainability.
"Canada is rare in being energy-rich and innovative, with a skilled workforce capable of expanding production in an environmentally, socially conscious and economically sustainable manner," she said in the speech.
"Our energy is therefore not just a profitable resource, but a strategic one."
When later asked to elaborate on her meaning of "strategic" — because the designation can mean the resource is not open for foreign investment — she said it is strategic because jurisdictions around the world need it.
Redford met with Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty earlier Wednesday as part of a whirlwind tour that also stopped in Washington and New York.
She said they talked about the Keystone pipeline a little, but only in terms of Canada's energy strategy to build international markets. She said they "didn't disagree on anything" and instead talked about how Alberta could help Ontario develop its interest in renewable power.
"I think as (McGuinty) moves forward with his plans around renewables that there's opportunity for technical partnerships, academic exchanges and for private sector partnerships," she told reporters.
"And that was one of the things that I left him with at the end of the meeting— let's see if we can pursue some of those possibilities."
Redford said her mission is not to "sell" the oilsands, but unlike her predecessors she is prepared to engage in a rational conversation with critics to work out their concerns.
"If they have concerns that are not based on facts, then let's get the facts right, we still may agree to disagree," she said.
"But I think there's an awful lot of back and forth right now, a lot of language, a lot of emotion, that isn't getting us to an outcome."
Redford will meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper Thursday in what will be the longest conversation they've had since she became premier of his home province.
She said they will discuss what they've learned with respect to the roadblocks in the Keystone pipeline process, as well as progress on environmental and water monitoring in the province.
Also on Wednesday, a senior official with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said those involved in the the oil and gas sector risk damaging their reputations if they don't meet their critics head on.
Janet Annesley, CAPP's vice-president of communications, told a business audience in Calgary that she's had discussions with those in the industry, including those working in the oil sands, and told them getting the facts out doesn't always make things right.
"The advent of new media, social media, the Internet has made people realize that perception is reality," she said. "That regulators only take decisions they can defend and it is in a company's best interest to tell their side of the story and do so very proactively."
Annesley said there will always be those who won't like the oil and gas sector no matter what is done but it is important not to shy away from tough questions from the public.
-With files from Bill Graveland in Calgary