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pipeline politics

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley speaks to media during a tour of Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline replacement project in Hardisty, Alta., on Thursday Aug.10, 2017. Ms. Notley will embark on a speaking tour this month to gather national support for a new pipeline project.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley will embark on a speaking tour this month to ask Canadians to gather national support for a new pipeline project, in an effort to neutralize a sustained political attack from a United Conservative Party energized by the recent crowning of Jason Kenney.

Her visits to Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver come as the Alberta government is looking increasingly cornered in its quest to get one project constructed from Alberta to a coast. The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to the West Coast has stalled amid a ferocious jurisdictional dispute with pipeline opponents in British Columbia, while TransCanada Corp. cancelled its plans for the $15.7-billion Energy East pipeline from Alberta to the Atlantic last month.

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"There is not a school, hospital, road or bike lane anywhere in the country that doesn't owe something to oil and gas," Ms. Notley said in a statement.

"Pipelines are just as critical for jobs and economies across the country as they are for Alberta, and to stifle the oil and gas industry would be economically negligent."

As trouble rains down at home for her NDP government, she will make the argument that fairness and the terms of Confederation dictate that Alberta be able to ship oil to international markets, and reduce its reliance on selling to the United States. She will emphasize the economic contributions of the oil and gas industry to the country as a whole while also trying to battle criticism from the political right that her government's energy and environmental policies have failed to make pipeline building any easier.

She will ask people in favour of pipelines to advocate for their construction – and "to tell their friends."

Ms. Notley will speak to business-friendly audiences at the Empire Club of Canada in Toronto, the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa and at the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.

Her message is tailored to a domestic audience of Alberta voters as much as a national one, as she will be giving similar speeches in Edmonton and Calgary.

Ms. Notley's office said she has no plans to meet with B.C.'s NDP Premier John Horgan or the mayors of Vancouver or Burnaby.

In response to the announcement of Ms. Notley's tour, Mr. Kenney tweeted: "Better late than never."

Two years into her term as Premier, Ms. Notley's tone on energy development has become harder – even in relation to those in her own party.

She said in Question Period on Monday that federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh's position against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is "dead wrong."

"But just as important, he is irrelevant," she said.

She added the pipeline has already received the necessary approval from Ottawa.

Ms. Notley's government has taken the position that improving Alberta's environmental reputation by placing a firm cap on oil sands greenhouse gas emissions, implementing a carbon tax and seeking common political ground with the federal Liberals and other provinces will engender the political goodwill to get projects built.

However, Mr. Kenney – elected as UCP leader on Oct. 28 – touts a harder line of economic blockades and legal challenges should he be elected premier.

His party is working to capitalize on Albertans' frustration that new pipelines to ship oil to market are being cancelled or delayed.

The UCP argues Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government has approved two pipeline projects but in reality, will not back its decisions with any political support or actions.

UCP MLA Angela Pitt said Monday that Ms. Notley's government is a "puppet" for Mr. Trudeau.

The cancellation of Energy East last month focused more attention on Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd.'s plans to nearly triple its existing Trans Mountain pipeline capacity from the Edmonton area to Burnaby, which would dramatically expand the ability of mainly Alberta-based oil producers to export to the Pacific Rim markets.

But the legal wrangling over the $7.4-billion project is escalating.

First Nations, environmental groups and local governments have mounted a legal challenge to Ottawa's approval of the project.

And Kinder Morgan has warned the project could be delayed by as much as nine months, meaning oil deliveries would not start until the end of 2020.

Late last month, Kinder Morgan asked the National Energy Board for approval to start some construction work in Burnaby as it has been unable to obtain the necessary permits from the city and said it is losing millions of dollars every month.

The Alberta government filed notice it will support Kinder Morgan in its dispute, while Burnaby replied that approvals take time for a project of this size.

On Monday, lawyers for the city of Burnaby sent a letter to Saskatchewan's Minister of Justice lambasting him for saying in media reports that the City of Burnaby is slowing down the expansion project.

Although that is Kinder Morgan's argument, the lawyers say the question "of whether the time taken in the application process is unreasonable and the result of a 'deliberate' slowing down, for an improper purpose" is a key issue to be examined by the NEB.

"We suggest that it is highly inappropriate for the Attorney-General of your Province to make public statements that pre-judge a key issue before a Court or regulatory tribunal," the letter from Ratcliff & Company LLP's Gregory McDade said