GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. - Alberta Tory leadership candidate Jim Prentice says he's the one who can navigate the myriad of challenges to get the Northern Gateway pipeline built to the B.C. coast.
Prentice said in a prepared speech Wednesday that a strong leader is needed to forge agreements for the pipeline.
"There will be no access to the Asia Pacific basin for our energy unless we strike a partnership with the government of British Columbia and a partnership with First Nations, including, in particular, the coastal First Nations," said Prentice.
"To be frank, none of that will happen without the right individual serving as our premier."
Prentice, a former Calgary Conservative MP, is one of three contenders vying to become the next provincial party leader and premier.
Prentice oversaw First Nations and environment issues when he served in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet.
He also worked on Asia economic issues as an executive with CIBC.
And before he decided to run in Alberta's Tory leadership race, he worked with First Nations on the pipeline on behalf of the pipeline builder, Enbridge.
The federal government is expected within the next week or so to announce its final decision on the pipeline, which would take bitumen from Alberta to ports on the west coast for transshipment to Asia.
Prentice said the line is critical to expanding Alberta's oil and gas exports to compete in the global economy of the 21st century.
"We have learned the hard way that an energy producer with only one customer will repeatedly pay a heavy price and be forced to sell at a discount," he said.
"We must therefore fix this dependency and ensure that we never find ourselves in this circumstance again. And we need to get on with putting a solution in place."
Former Alberta premier Alison Redford coined the term "bitumen bubble" to refer to the price spread between oilsands crude and conventional North American oil caused by Alberta's reliance on the United States as its sole consumer.
Prentice said he will also work to get oil to Canada's east coast, while also setting the stage to make it profitable for companies to upgrade more petrochemical products in Alberta.
And he said he will work to expand foreign markets for Alberta's agriculture and forestry products.
"Under my leadership, we will work with the government of Canada to make clear that Alberta is open for business," he said.
Prentice has otherwise promised a status quo approach to Alberta's bedrock industry.
He has said that while he will work to protect the environment, he will not enact any levies or regulations that would stifle growth of the oil and gas sector. And any new environmental rules will have to be done in concert with the rest of Canada and the U.S.
He also doesn't plan to reappraise the money the province takes in on oil royalties.
The opposition NDP has argued that Alberta has consistently undersold its share of oilsands profits, resulting in budgets that fund and cut programs based on the vagaries of resource prices.
Prentice has also dismissed hiking taxes or changing the current 10 per cent flat tax to raise revenue.
In its last budget, Alberta balanced its day to day spending, but will borrow $21 billion by 2017 to pay for new roads, schools, and hospitals for its rapidly growing population.
— By Dean Bennett in Edmonton
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