Jim Prentice made that observation amid a series of meetings Monday in the U.S. capital, where the debate over the controversial Alberta-to-Texas pipeline is entering a critical phase.
He said everything he's heard suggests President Barack Obama is about to veto a Keystone bill that just made it through Congress — but that the issue will persist.
"In talking with everyone we've spoken with in Washington, there's kind of a sense of inevitability that if the president does veto the bill that the whole Keystone pipeline will be put back before him, attached to some other measure, in the coming months," Prentice told a media conference call.
"And that that would take place sometime this spring."
There's talk in Washington of a pipeline-approval clause being incorporated into a larger legislative arrangement. Some of the ideas being discussed, however, could require a multi-step legislative dance.
One Republican committee chair has predicted that Keystone will be added to a big infrastructure-funding bill, which is something the president calls a top personal priority and would be tempted to sign.
But first Congress might need to pass another big bill: long-awaited reform of the U.S. tax code. To pay for new infrastructure, and make the Republican rank-and-file accept more spending, there's a proposal to use tax reform to encourage companies to repatriate profits now sheltered overseas, and use that new influx of cash for roads and bridges.
Prentice held more than a half-dozen meetings Monday during his weeklong U.S. trip.
His interlocutors included World Bank President Jim Kim, the chief-operating officer of the Inter-American Development Bank Julie Katzman, lawmakers, think-tanks, the Washington Post's editorial board, and members of the Obama administration.
One of those administration members was a State Department official, Amos Hockstein, gathering input for the soon-to-be-completed Keystone regulatory process, which is separate from the legislation in Congress. That oft-delayed process could finally be completed within weeks.
In his meetings, Prentice repeatedly promoted Alberta's attempts to reduce emissions from the oilsands. It was a theme of his discussions with Kim and Katzman, as the province seeks to shake off its poor environmental reputation and draw attention to its work in clean technology.
Some of the environmental groups fighting Keystone have expressed indifference to clean-energy talk from Canada, saying their objective is to keep carbon from the oilsands in the ground — whatever Canada does on climate change.
Keystone wasn't the only irritant with the U.S. that came up Monday.
Prentice brought up mandatory country-of-origin meat labelling, which Canada's livestock industry blames for big revenue losses and has led to a fight at the World Trade Organization and talk of a trade war.
While he referred to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman in friendly terms, the premier conceded that they didn't resolve their differences over the meat-labelling issue during the meeting.