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It’s possible to expand oil sands and reduce emissions: Mulcair

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is pictured as attends the launch of his new autobiography, "Strength of Conviction", in Montreal on Monday, August 10, 2015.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Canada needs credible, sustainable development laws before it can determine whether or not to significantly expand production of the Alberta oil sands, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said Monday.

Mulcair was speaking at a campaign stop and book launch event in Montreal, not long after being interrupted at a similar event in Toronto by protesters who pressed him for a position on TransCanada's Energy East pipeline.

Federal party leaders have not taken a firm position on Energy East because the proposed project is currently under review and Canadians are divided on whether or not to expand oil sands production and build pipelines or gradually reduce oil exports to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

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Both Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau have said they don't trust the current federal pipeline review process and would introduce what they call stricter and more thorough analyses of proposed energy projects.

"It's possible" to develop and increase production of the oil sands while being serious about greenhouse gas reduction, the NDP leader said.

"You have to put in place that sustainable development legislation and enforce it."

That includes pricing pollution into oil products and making polluters pay for the pollution they create, "and that type of thing has to be done to determine whether or not you can continue at the same level (of oil sands production)," he added.

The NDP has been under pressure to clarify its position on the Alberta oil sands after Toronto NDP candidate and author Linda McQuaig told a CBC panel that curbing production might be necessary for Canada to meet its environmental targets.

The Tories committed Canada to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels before 2030.

Neither the NDP, the Liberals nor the Conservatives have outlined exactly how Canada can expand the oilsands — a major driver of the country's economy — and commit to reducing emissions at the same time.

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Many anti-oil-sands activists point to a January 2015 peer-reviewed, academic article in the journal Nature that said about two-thirds of the world's fossil fuel reserves — including the oil sands — must remain unburned by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 2 degrees C.

Mulcair was in Toronto and reading passages from his newly released autobiography, "Strength of Conviction," when a couple of people stood up to unfurl banners in front of him, shouting, "Stop Energy East."

The project would bring 1.1 million barrels of oil a day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in New Brunswick for export overseas.

"If it is found to be incompatible with national action on climate change, will you say no to the pipeline?" one protester yelled as he was escorted out of the room by Mulcair's security detail.

"Of course we will," Mulcair replied. "That's what the whole purpose of coming in with a new system is: to make sure that we take into account climate change whenever we analyze a project."

The disruption was brief and relatively amicable; at least one of the protesters reappeared during the book-signing portion of Mulcair's event to pose for a photo with the NDP leader.

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A couple of people in Montreal also wanted to disrupt Mulcair's launch by asking questions about Energy East, but they were unsuccessful.

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