"There are some 15,000 New Brunswickers working outside New Brunswick today in natural resource sectors, and we're not isolated with this story," Alward said in a speech in the legislature chamber.
He said he met and talked to some of those workers on his flights from New Brunswick to the Alberta capital.
"What they say to me is they are blessed to be able to gain that opportunity, but they are looking for the opportunity in a year and a half or so to ply their trade back home."
Alward said his 23-year-old son works in the oilpatch.
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He later added that the long distance New Brunswickers travel to work can be hard on families.
"Canadians want to work and need to work. Canadians want to build prosperity and economic opportunity no matter what region they live (in)," he said.
"Projects like the Energy East pipeline will translate into thousands of jobs in communities across Canada."
Alward and Alberta Premier Alison Redford are backing TransCanada's (TSX:TRP) proposed $12-billion pipeline as critical to boosting the national economy.
The 4,500-kilometre line would ship Alberta crude from a terminal southeast of Edmonton across the Prairies into Ontario, then up to refineries in Montreal and near Quebec City. It would end at refineries at the deepwater port in Saint John.
From there, crude could be shipped overseas by tanker, giving Alberta an outlet for a backlog of oil that the province says is depressing prices and taking a $6-billion bite out of its bottom line this year.
It could also reduce Eastern Canada's dependence on higher-priced foreign oil from countries such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.
An economic impact report done for TransCanada estimates the line would add $35 billion to Canada's GDP over 40 years and deliver $10 billion in tax revenues to Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.
It would also create 10,000 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs.
The line must ultimately be approved by the federal government, but already faces challenges in Ontario and Quebec.
Both provinces want more information on the project's effects and on the ramifications of converting an existing 3,000-kilometre natural gas pipeline into one that would carry crude.
Alward said while all projects must meet the highest environmental standards, doing nothing is not an option.
"We are at a crossroads at home in New Brunswick and indeed across our country," he said.
"Canada is at risk of standing still while our competitors around the world are moving forward and making plans to move past us.
"As Canadians we need to think about what that will mean for our grandchildren and their children. Prosperity and opportunity are not inherited rights."
Both premiers are seeking to harvest their province's natural resources to improve their economies.
Redford is also pushing Enbridge's (TSX:ENB) Northern Gateway pipeline that would to take bitumen to tankers on the B.C. coast. A decision from the National Energy Board is expected soon.
She has also made numerous trips to Washington to lobby for TransCanada's Keystone XL line, which would carry Alberta bitumen across North America to refineries and ports in Texas.
U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to decide on the project next year.
Both Northern Gateway and Keystone have faced fierce opposition.
Detractors say the benefits wouldn't outweigh the environmental catastrophes that could result from pipeline breaches. They also say the lines reinforce North American dependence on oilsands crude, which opponents say is more harmful to the environment than conventional oil due to the extra resources needed to bring it to the surface and refine it.
In New Brunswick, Alward has touted the Energy East pipeline along with shale gas development as two ways to advance his province's struggling economy.
The shale gas proposal has met stiff and, at times, violent resistance from protesters who fear the impact on groundwater.
Alward told reporters Thursday he doesn't see concern over the shale gas issue bleeding into the Energy East pipeline debate.
"Yes, there is pushback in development of our (shale gas) resources, but I believe the vast majority of New Brunswickers want to see development take place."