When the premiers of Canada’s energy-rich western provinces get together for formal meetings in Winnipeg on Monday, it’s no surprise that talk will turn to pipelines.
With Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger as host, however, it’s not the controversial, high-profile Northern Gateway pipeline expected to stimulate discussion. Instead, focus will veer to a pipeline going east, from Alberta to New Brunswick.
In fact, said Mr. Selinger, the Gateway pipeline proposal to transport crude oil from Alberta’s oil sands to the west coast of British Columbia is unlikely to be mentioned at all.
That pipeline plan has caused a rift between the country’s two most western provinces, with B.C. insisting that five preconditions be met before it can proceed. “I believe they want to discuss it bilaterally,” the Manitoba Premier said, in an interview Sunday. “If they ask us to weigh in, I expect we will do so informally, but so far, we haven’t discussed it at last year’s conference, or [plan to do so] this year.”
But there is broad-based agreement on an eastward pipeline, he pointed out. “We are all generally supportive of moving western oil to the east, because right now, the east is dependent on imports from countries like Venezuela. So, I am sure that will come up.”
Alberta Premier Alison Redford agreed Gateway will not be part of the talking points at the Western Premiers’ Conference, which also includes the three territorial leaders. She said there was little value for them to discuss any specific pipeline proposals, since all must receive regulatory approval before going ahead.
“The west-east pipeline has general consensus and support right across the West. I don’t think it warrants an awful lot more discussion, except to say that we’re all very excited and supportive of the project,” Ms. Redford said.
Meanwhile, the reception B.C. Premier Christy Clark receives at the conference is sure to be closely scrutinized.
Ms. Clark skipped the last one in Edmonton, and later that summer famously stalked out of the Canadian premiers’ gathering in Halifax, refusing to join other provinces in a national energy strategy, until B.C. got its way on its conditions for the Gateway pipeline.
Not long after that, the B.C. Premier described her relations with Ms. Redford as “frosty”.
But a surprise meeting between the two premiers in Kelowna last Friday seemed to thaw their icy past, not least because Ms. Clark’s position has now been endorsed by the voters in her unexpected election victory a month ago.
“This is a group of premiers that like each other very much on a personal level,” said Ms. Redford. “The working relationship, particularly between B.C. and Alberta, is very strong right now.”
Mr. Selinger said he hopes that Ms. Clark’s previous hostility to a national energy strategy has also softened.
“I think the temperature has come down on that, that B.C. is not as averse to it any more, and there’s greater willingness to collaborate,” he said. “We’ll see [on Monday.]”
But Ms. Clark’s spokesman, Ben Chin, said B.C.’s preconditions remain, suggesting the matter will not be a big deal at the premiers’ conference. “[The other provinces] would like us to sign on to the Canadian energy strategy, and that conversation is going to go on. But it’s not like our five conditions are going anywhere,” Mr. Chin said.
At the same time, Mr. Selinger stressed that other energy issues will be on the agenda, besides pipelines. They include liquefied natural gas, dear to Ms. Clark’s heart, and hydro, dear to Manitoba’s heart, he said.
“It’s about how we can all achieve greater energy security and access to our respective energy markets, in a way that allows the Western economy to grow.”
The agenda will also include bullying, infrastructure, skilled workers and disaster management, Mr. Selinger added.