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Former Industry Minister Jim Prentice, now CIBC's vice-chair, says Canada needs to push forward on pipeline construction so it can export the oil and gas in Western Canada to markets in Asia.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Canada will never build pipelines or liquefied natural gas terminals in British Columbia without "meaningful economic partnerships" with First Nations in the province, former environment minister Jim Prentice says.

Mr. Prentice's comments come as his former cabinet colleagues consider the fate of the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would run through B.C. if given the go-ahead.

Speaking at the Manning Networking Conference of conservative figures on Friday, Mr. Prentice once again called for a greater focus on the environment, which he said Conservatives need to reclaim as a platform issue.

He stuck largely to a written speech, which echoed some comments he'd made before. But at one point he veered from the text with an off-the-cuff warning.

"And mark my words: There will be no pipelines to the West Coast, there will be no exports of Canada's oil from the West Coast, or LNG [liquefied natural gas] terminals on the West Coast, unless we strike meaningful economic partnerships with First Nations," Mr. Prentice told the crowd, before returning to his written speech to deliver a warning he has given previously: "If you are in the energy business today, then you are in the environment business."

In another part of his speech, he said a record fine – in a case where 1,600 ducks died in an oil sands tailings pond in 2008 – reflected the government was taking the issue seriously. "Our regulations must be smart, sound and forward-looking. They must also have teeth and consequence," he said. At the time, the $3-million fine for Syncrude Canada Ltd. represented half a day's profit for the company. Veering from his prepared speech, Mr. Prentice said the ducks died "because people didn't do what they were supposed to do."

Mr. Prentice served as an MP from 2004 to 2010, including several cabinet posts. He was environment minister from 2008 to 2010 and used his speech to urge Conservatives to work to be seen as environmental stewards.

"We should not cede this ground to others or allow ourselves to be portrayed as indifferent to the world around us," he said. He called environmental policy "an economic imperative," saying Canada was caught off-guard when he was minister.

"I can say from hard experience: We can't ever again allow ourselves as a country to be off-footed, and be caught in a circumstance where we are following rather than leading," he said, noting he represented Canada in the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen. "I have the scars to show for it," he quipped.

Mr. Prentice, often touted as a potential Conservative leadership candidate should Stephen Harper step aside, spoke for nearly 40 minutes and outlined eight "principles" for Conservatives to do better on balancing environmental needs and economic development. They included continuing to extract resources; establish Canada as a "world leader" in environmentalism; treat pollution issues as continental, in effect focusing on doing things the United States agrees to; rely on free markets and avoid programs such as subsidies for green energy; bring in "world-class regulatory and monitoring standards"; treat science and technology as "allies"; lead the world in land conservation; and build partnerships in pursuit of environmental solutions and energy projects, including those with First Nations. "None of this is new, all of this is conservative," he told the crowd.

The Conservative government is currently reviewing the Northern Gateway proposal after the National Energy Board recommended conditional approval. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the government will review the NEB report and consult with First Nations along the route before making a decision.

Mr. Prentice now serves as senior executive vice-president and vice-chairman at CIBC, but began his speech by saying his views – on environmentalism and development, in this case – do not reflect those of the bank.