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Iris Evans, Alberta Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations (Jennifer Roberts/Jennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail)
Iris Evans, Alberta Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations (Jennifer Roberts/Jennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail)

Alberta launches oil sands PR campaign Add to ...

After enduring a barrage of attacks that rehashed environmental hazards associated with developing Western Canada's oil sands, Alberta's provincial government has gone on the offensive.

The province's ministers of international and intergovernmental relations, environment and energy met with members of the media on Monday in Toronto and will co-host a conference with the province of Ontario Tuesday that promotes interprovincial collaboration to develop innovations that could green the oil sands.

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For Iris Evans, Alberta's minister of international and intergovernmental relations, the Toronto stop comes after what has been a dizzying two-week promotional blitz across the United States. During her journey, she tried hard to paint a positive picture of the oil sands, but tweaked her exact messages on each side of the border.

In the U.S., she promoted being "green." In recent weeks, prominent U.S. lawmakers, including House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Lindsey Graham visited Canada to check out just how hazardous the oil sands might be because they face growing opposition to "dirty" oil back home.

In Ontario, her message touches on Canadian unity. "We're coming here because we know that Alberta doesn't have all the answers," she said in an interview with The Globe and Mail's editorial board.

Although Alberta houses the oil sands, Ms. Evans said her province needs help from its neighbours to develop innovative solutions that will produce the oil sands with a smaller environmental footprint.

And, she added, Ontario's companies have a lot to gain from helping out.

A 2009 report by the Canadian Energy Research Institute determined that developing the oil sands, which includes building infrastructure out of concrete and steel, will generate $11.4-billion for Ontario's economy over 25 years. More importantly, operating the oil sands over that same time frame will have an economic impact of over $43-billion in the province, bringing the combined total to near $55-billion.

Douglas Brown, associate professor of political science at St. Francis Xavier University, acknowledged that Alberta has a legitimate argument on that front.

"A lot of that [development]sticks to the Ontario and Quebec economies," he said. "There's an important economic union message there."

He also noted that it is common to see provinces do these promotional tours. In fact, he said, Quebec often ventures out to Alberta because the two are often the most ideologically disparate.

"But how effective they are is someone else's call," he said.

For those who question Alberta's seriousness, Professor Adam Fremeth at the University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of Business said there is a good chance Alberta really means what it says. Two weeks ago he attended a conference hosted by Carbon Management Canada, based at the University of Calgary, that asked Canadian engineering and business schools to research greener oil sands innovations. Their reward? A cut of the $50-million in funding put up by the Alberta Conservatives and the federal government.

It appears, then, that the current promotional tour could just be a trial run for many more to come, something Ms. Evans implied on Monday.

"Even if this isn't successful, we will look at ways of improving on it," she said.

This article has been corrected from an earlier version.

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