05/09/2013 12:51 EDT | Updated 07/29/2013 05:09 EDT

Northern Gateway Pipeline Good Bargaining Tool, Expert Says

A University of Calgary professor says Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline would be a great bargaining tool with the United States.

The controversial proposal to get oilsands crude to the West Coast faced more criticism on Wednesday at the Calgary-based company’s annual general meeting in the city.

First Nations spokespeople, business owners and others from B.C. flew in to express their concerns directly to shareholders at the AGM.

They are worried about the devastation that would be caused if there’s an oil spill along the pipeline.

But University of Calgary public policy expert Jack Mintz said the pipeline would open up other markets to Canadian oil —strengthening future negotiations with the U.S.

“When you are dealing with issues with the United States — a country that is 10 times bigger than us — it’s good to have alternative markets.

“I've seen it in lumber, where all of a sudden over 30 per cent of our lumber exports now go to Asia and it’s given us an alternative market. And if the U.S. turns up the heat on softwood lumber we can say ‘okay, we'll go to Asia instead’”, Mintz said.

The Harper government has given the Northern Gateway pipeline's review panel until the end of this year to conclude its report. The federal cabinet would like to make a final decision by June 2014.