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Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau, speaks to supporters at the Hotel Arts on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, during a brief campaign stop in the province. (Chris Bolin For The Globe and Mail)
Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau, speaks to supporters at the Hotel Arts on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, during a brief campaign stop in the province. (Chris Bolin For The Globe and Mail)

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Trudeau tells Alberta he’s ‘not opposed to pipelines’ Add to ...

Federal Liberal leadership contender Justin Trudeau has suggested a pipeline to move oil from Western Canada to the east could open up new markets and give new life to refineries, such as those in his hometown of Montreal.

During a campaign stop in Calgary on Monday night, Mr. Trudeau restated his opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline through British Columbia due to environmental concerns and lack of consultation with first nations, but said he is “not opposed to pipelines” in general.

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Still, the Quebec MP said he needs more details before he’ll endorse TransCanada Corp.’s proposed $5-billion pipeline plan that would bring western oil to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick, and perhaps allow for crude exports from the deep-water port of Saint John.

“Don’t just come to me with the cheapest pipeline plan,” Mr. Trudeau said. “Come to me with the best pipeline plan and we’ll talk.”

While New Brunswick’s Premier endorses the eastern link idea, which would largely be accomplished by converting an existing gas pipeline to carry up one million barrels of oil a day, in B.C., there’s opposition to the Northern Gateway project, which would move bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to the west coast. Alberta badly needs to move raw product to export markets and refineries, and is in favour of both options.

Mr. Trudeau said considering a “west to east” pipeline is extremely important.

Mr. Trudeau, who is a perceived front-runner in the leadership race along with Marc Garneau, is saddled with a brand and a name that evokes hostile feelings in Alberta, but as he rolled through the province, he attracted support and directly took on old ghosts.

Mr. Trudeau fielded questions in Calgary, the country’s oil and gas capital, from the editor of Oilweek magazine and the mostly business audience of about 160 gathered in a posh boutique hotel.

This is committed conservative country, and people still query him about his late father’s policies toward Alberta. Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau became reviled for his National Energy Program in 1980, which hurt the province’s oil and gas industry.

This stop in Calgary was the end of a three day-tour of Alberta that kicked off over the weekend with stops in the rural and northern communities Vegreville, Bonnyville, Ponoka and Red Deer, before heading south to Calgary. That’s where Grit party supporter Gerald Butts posted to the photo sharing social network Instagram a shot of Mr. Trudeau with his arm around Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s chief of staff, who is credited with helping get the popular mayor elected. The caption: “Can’t say how thrilled we are to welcome Chima Nkemdirim, Mayor Neshi’s right hand man, to #TeamTrudeau.”

Mr. Nkemdirim is volunteering in the campaign, but didn’t respond to a request for an interview.

The Vegreville Train Station restaurant owner was taken aback by the request to play host over the weekend to the candidate, and was surprised to find 100 people from the community of 5,758 turn out to warmly receive the politician.

“Being a tiny little town and to have somebody that is running for leadership to think of us is a good thing,” said Ellen Dunn. “I think it helps people realize they’re [MPs] not just far away. Taking an interest in a small town goes a long way.”

She was also impressed with his charisma and that he wasn’t afraid to answer tough questions, but Ms. Dunn didn’t take out a membership.“It doesn’t mean to say I won’t,” she added.

Mr. Trudeau also trekked southeast to Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Brooks before looping back to Calgary – all places he found support.

“I must have been wrong,” he said, “There are a lot of fans of the Trudeau family out there.”

Political scientist Chaldeans Mensah of Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton called Mr. Trudeau’s focus on Alberta smart politicking.

“Liberals have ceded a large part of the country, especially the rural parts of Canada to the Conservatives,” he said. “This strategy of Justin Trudeau of targeting rural Alberta sends a message that the Liberals are prepared to fight for every constituency.”

Keith Brownsey, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said Mr. Trudeau is smart to drum up support in Alberta, where there is money and room to grow.“ He’s the best known so in that sense he’s the most palatable,” said Prof. Brownsey of the nine candidates vying for the job. “It’s about building enthusiasm at this point.”

And, it appears to be working."The prince has arrived,” one woman exclaimed when he walked into the Calgary hotel Monday.

All Liberal members and supporters who have signed up by March 3 can vote for the new leader under a preferential ballot system where each riding gets equal say in the final result.

The leader will be selected on April 14 in Ottawa. The candidates debate again on Feb. 2 in Winnipeg.

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