07/17/2015 11:50 EDT | Updated 07/17/2016 05:59 EDT

National energy strategy OK'd at meeting of premiers

Canada's premiers and territorial leaders have reached a deal on a Canadian energy strategy they say supports common energy interests and addresses climate change, after two days of intense and at times tense discussions in St. John's.

"What we have here is a visionary document that agrees that provinces will work together to allow the transfer and the movement of energy throughout our country," Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis said during a Friday news conference at the end of a meeting of provincial and territorial heads of government.

Davis, who chaired this year's summer meeting, said the deal ushers in "a new era of energy partnerships in Canada," which was made possible "a frank exchange of views and healthy discussions."

The premiers touted the energy strategy, in a joint news release, as "a demonstration of their commitment to strengthening the economy, creating jobs, ensuring a secure supply of energy for all Canadians, supporting energy innovation and addressing climate change."

Other highlights from the summer meeting between Canada's premiers and territorial leaders include:

- Opening the door for the federal government to join a provincial and territorial alliance that buys prescription drugs in bulk.

- Urging the federal government to increase the Canada Health Transfer to cover at least 25 per cent of all health-care spending.

- Releasing a report on the high number of aboriginal children in welfare systems and calling on Ottawa to help address the issue.

- Vowing to act on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The deal comes after Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan earlier this week took shots at Ontario and Quebec in arguing their positions seem to look down on lucrative oil and gas resources while benefiting from the equalization funds they help raise.

He also appeared to take a swipe at Alberta Premier Rachel Notley for seemingly giving the eastern provinces a veto over pipeline development in the West, following a meeting with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard. On Thursday, Notley rejected the accusation as "ridiculous."

Although Wall struck a milder tone Friday, he reiterated his "frustration" with what he said is a general reticence by politicians and the public at large to acknowledge the benefits reaped from the oil and gas sectors.

"We always need to be mindful of the environmental implications of the industry witnessed in northern Alberta even today, and be serious about improving the environmental outcomes around energy development — there's no question about it," Wall said.

"But my point coming into this meeting, is what I would like — and not just from a document but from all of us as Canadians — is to reflect on the fact that we have this great resource. It employs people, it funds social programs, it pays for equalization and it's okay for us to say oil and gas is a good thing."

Canada's energy future, the premiers said in their joint news release, requires policies that send a strong signal across the economy to enhance energy efficiency, lower the carbon footprint and support technological innovation.

Provinces and territories, the provincial leaders went on to say, are better positioned to develop and transport energy and promote research and technology that will enhance the energy sector and encourage the transition to a lower carbon economy.

Striking a balance

The national strategy was announced as Nexen Energy apologized for a five million litre pipeline spill of bitumen, produced water and sand southeast of Fort McMurray, Alta.

Notley said pipelines are still the safest way to transport oil and gas, and safety is part of the energy strategy.

"The strategy itself refers, of course, to the need to not only develop our energy resources responsibly and safely but to transport them responsibly and safely," she added. "And we're all committed to that objective."

B.C. Premier Christy Clark said the deal respects his province's five conditions for supporting oil pipeline development.

"The biggest gap between where we need to be and where we are today in terms of being able to export oil from Alberta at tide water in British Columbia, is the fact that we need world-class spill response in the water — that's a federal responsibility," Clark said.

The federal government has said that while Canada already has a strong marine safety record, it is committed to "further protecting communities and the environment from the potential effects of ship-source oil spills."

"We watch with interest," Clark said.

Ontario's Kathleen Wynne, the premier of Canada's largest province, said the agreement acknowledged "strong competing needs and differences of opinion."

Couillard said the premiers had come along way from a draft strategy that was "very light on the environment climate change." 

"Here we were able to achieve ... a very commendable exercise of balance," he said.

Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod welcomed the balance saying the national strategy will allow his government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without adding higher energy costs.

Agreement on a national plan to guide future energy projects while also protecting the environment had been on the premiers' agenda since 2012.