QUEBEC - Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is hopeful Quebec will get behind the Energy East oil pipeline, provided her province does its part to fight climate change and protect the environment.
Notley and her Quebec counterpart, Philippe Couillard, had their first face-to-face meeting in Quebec City on Tuesday ahead of the annual premiers' meeting in St. John's, N.L., later this week. The two discussed Energy East and climate change policy.
"I think it's fair to say that he understands that energy continues to be a key driver of economic prosperity, not just in Alberta, but across Canada and he acknowledged as well that pipelines are ultimately the best way to move that product and that we needed to look at ways to enhance market access," Notley said in a teleconference call following the meeting.
However, she said climate change is top of mind for Couillard. Energy East would ship more than a million barrels a day of oilsands crude, which has been derided in many quarters for its big carbon footprint.
Alberta recently toughened up its rules for large industrial emitters and doubled the province's carbon price to $30 a tonne in 2017 for those that exceed their limit. Meanwhile, an expert panel is examining Alberta's broader climate change policy.
"What I heard from him is that if we're able to move forward on that in a meaningful and convincing way, that there's more likelihood of Quebec being able to come to terms with it."
Couillard has also raised concerns that Quebec will just be a transit point for Alberta crude on its way to international markets and won't benefit economically.
Notley said Couillard's caveats are reasonable.
"Those are the same standards we would look for in Alberta. So we're going to continue to work with him and continue the dialogue and certainly advocate on behalf of the pipeline and I'm hopeful that we'll get some good results ultimately."
Notley's approach to pipelines differs from that of her Progressive Conservative predecessors, who aggressively stumped for all pipeline proposals.
While Notley is in favour of Energy East and Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion to the Vancouver area, she has said her government won't lobby for the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States or Enbridge's Northern Gateway proposal across northern British Columbia.
Greenpeace campaigner Patrick Bonin said Notley and Couillard are "in denial" if they think they can protect the climate while giving the go-ahead to oilsands pipelines.
"The premiers should be thinking about more ways to keep the oilsands in the ground and speed the transition to renewable energy sources rather than how to dig ourselves a deeper problem."
If it proceeds, TransCanada's (TSX:TRP) $12-billion Energy East pipeline would carry Alberta crude as far as Saint John, N.B., with the goal of feeding Canadian refineries as well as overseas customers.
A planned export terminal in Cacouna, Que., has been scrapped due to concerns over beluga whale habitat. TransCanada is now examining alternatives.
— By Lauren Krugel in Calgary
Follow @LaurenKrugel on Twitter.