Prentice addressed the group on his third and final day of a trip to the U.S. capital. He focused his remarks on the integrated energy markets of Canada and the U.S., touted the benefits of free trade, and outlined the actions he said have made Alberta a leader in environmental policy.
He advocated for the U.S. approval of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would carry crude oil from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast by saying that building it is in the best interest of both countries, and that oil would be produced under high environmental standards.
But Prentice did not go on at length about Keystone XL during his lunchtime speech, instead he spoke more broadly about how integrated North America's energy markets already are, and why that relationship should go deeper.
"I want to be clear that the energy relationship shared by our two nations, by Alberta and the United States, is much bigger than any single pipeline," Prentice told the business crowd. "We need a renewed focus on the bigger picture and on the longer term."
He said Canada and the U.S. are in the midst of an "energy renaissance" and have security, industrial and environmental advantages that could make them an even more competitive global force — if opportunities are seized.
Audience was friendly
Prentice, who is a former federal environment minister, told the audience that in Alberta there is an understanding that if you're in the energy business, you're in the environment business.
"We have nothing to hide in terms of our environmental performance," he said, after explaining what Alberta has done to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to increase energy efficiency.
Prentice was speaking to a "friendly audience," according to George David Banks, who was among the attendees. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is firmly behind TransCanada building the Keystone XL pipeline and so were many of the people there to listen to him, including Banks, who works at a think-tank.
Stephen Eule , who works at the chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy, said that Prentice's speech and trip to Washington were worthwhile.
"There is an educational aspect to this. We hear one side of the story down here, it's good to hear from the horse's mouth what the real story is in Canada. That alone I think is very useful," said Eule.
Greg Knox, another attendee, said the Keystone debate is so polarized that it is often framed as pro-pipeline advocates versus pro-environmental advocates and misses the point that you can be in favour of both.
Prentice brought 'balance'
He said Prentice helped bring that perspective to Washington, particularly because of his experience as an environment minister. He held the role in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet for two years before quitting Parliament Hill to go to the private sector.
"I think it lends some good balance and credibility to the effort," Knox said.
Allan Boyd, a former member of Congress from Florida who now works with oil companies, had heard Prentice in an interview on NPR radio Wednesday morning and liked what he heard.
"He's done a great job here keeping the right tone in terms of explaining Canada's position, North American energy independence and how important that is to both of us," said Boyd, a Democrat who is in favour of Keystone XL.
Leigh Clarke, a Calgary resident who happened to be in Washington for work and dropped by to hear his premier, said he was impressed by how Prentice went beyond just the Keystone XL issue and helped get the discussion "out of the weeds."
"What I heard was a message that seemed to me more powerful in that it raised the consciousness above a particular project or a particular issue, and may help all of us in North America and legislators on both sides of the border understand the broader context that we all operate together as Americans and Canadians," he said.
During the first two days of his visit to Washington, Prentice met with a range of people including the editorial board of the Washington Post, representatives of several think-tanks, a representative from the State Department handling the Keystone XL file, a representative of the Obama administration, and several senators.