Alberta Premier Alison Redford says she's in the United States this week to educate the power brokers of America, including House speaker John Boehner and various State Department officials, about the Keystone XL pipeline and its importance to both the U.S. and Canada.
Ms. Redford's timing was curious — she arrived on Capitol Hill days after the sudden decision by the U.S. State Department to defer a final decision on the pipeline until after the next presidential election as it examines alternate routes for the project.
She disputed suggestions that her visit was too little, too late, and that she should have been in the U.S. capital soon after taking over as premier last month to advocate for the pipeline.
“This is a process that must take place in the United States,” she said, calling such criticisms “naive.”
“It would not have been appropriate for the government of Alberta to be lobbying in that process.”
It will be the first time an Alberta premier has met with the speaker of the House of Representatives, Ms. Redford said.
“He's a tremendous advocate,” she said of Mr. Boehner.
The speaker, indeed, released a statement on Monday assailing the White House for the Keystone XL decision, accusing U.S. President Barack Obama of delaying it in order to bolster his chances of re-election next November.
“By punting on this project, the president has made clear that campaign politics are driving U.S. policy decisions — at the expense of American jobs,” Mr. Boehner said.
“The current project has already been deemed environmentally sound, and calling for a new route is nothing but a thinly veiled attempt to avoid upsetting the president's political base before the election.”
Ms. Redford wouldn't say if she thought the State Department's decision was politically motivated.
“I'm not going to get into commenting one way or the other about something that, like I said, is particularly unique and important for the political discussion to take place in the United States,” she said. “It's not for us to be involved in that.”
Keystone XL, designed to transport bitumen from Alberta's oil sands down through six U.S. states to refineries on the Gulf Coast, met a massive groundswell of protest from environmental advocates in both the U.S. and Canada.
The original route took the pipeline directly through the Sand Hills of Nebraska and over a key underground aquifer that provides drinking water to millions of U.S. residents.
In her meetings with Mr. Boehner and others in Washington and New York, Ms. Redford suggested she'd steer clear of politics and instead discuss the myriad economic benefits of the pipeline.
“I do believe, as I've said before, that it has tremendous economic benefits for Alberta and for the United States.”
She sounded a more optimistic tone than some of her federal counterparts. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has suggested the delay may kill Keystone XL, while Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Sunday that Canada would now work to ensure access to Asian markets for its oil sands crude.
Ms. Redford said turning to Asian markets has always been on the agenda.
“The reality is that Canada and Alberta will build markets and we will go where there are markets that are available to us. I don't think that we're looking at an either/or, and I never thought that we were,” she said.
She added, however, that the State Department's ultimate decision may simply accelerate the need for Alberta to explore other options.
“As we move through the process, we need to make decisions with respect to economic development as a result of circumstances that are not within our control,” she said. “At some point in time, if we were to see an outcome that was disappointing, we may need to make other decisions.”
The State Department decision stunned and angered many Canadian proponents of the pipeline. But department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday he didn't expect any permanent damage to the Canada-U.S. relationship.
“In terms our bilateral relationship, we don't believe it's going to have a negative effect.”