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Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney delivers the 2016 William A. Howard Memorial Lecture at the University of Calgary on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016.Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney says the best way to shock Canada's economy back to robust growth is for the Liberal government to approve the controversial Energy East pipeline to create jobs and get Canadian oil to world markets.

In an address to law students at the University of Calgary on Tuesday, Mr. Mulroney urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take personal charge in forging a new pipeline strategy with key players, including First Nations, the provinces, municipalities and the oil sector.

"The Canadian agenda under the Prime Minister's personal direction would provide hundreds of billions of dollars in new investments, millions of new jobs, bring East and West much closer together, and be as transformational and beneficial to the country as any major policy initiative undertaken in Canada in the last 70 years," he said.

Mr. Mulroney, who is an international lawyer, threw his support behind TransCanada Corp.'s troubled $15.7-billion Energy East pipeline proposal, which would carry one million barrels of oil a day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Eastern Canada and a marine terminal in Saint John, N.B.

The former prime minister has developed a close relationship with Mr. Trudeau, and has said many times that Energy East could be a nation-building project on the scale of the Canada-U.S. free trade deal and the North American Free trade pact. He has publicly and privately urged Mr. Trudeau to be a transformative leader by using his huge popularity to end the political paralysis over pipeline development.

Robin Sears, a spokesman for Mr. Mulroney, said the former Progressive Conservative leader is not being paid by TransCanada and has no financial connection to the project.

The fate of the pipeline proposal is uncertain since three members of the National Energy Board panel examining the project were forced to resign because they had private talks with former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who had not told them he was working for TransCanada at the time.

Montreal-area mayors, environmentalists and some First Nations along the route oppose the project.

Mr. Mulroney said Mr. Trudeau has the "determination and skill" to bring all the players to the table to get a massive pipeline project off the ground.

In a swipe at former prime minister Stephen Harper, who failed to get a major pipeline built even though his Conservative government streamlined the environmental process and ignored First Nations concerns, Mr. Mulroney said Mr. Trudeau understands the folly of acting unilaterally.

Mr. Mulroney urged Mr. Trudeau to model his pipeline strategy after the way the former prime minister conducted free trade negotiations with the United States.

"What we now need for an exceptional, cohesive effort to make the most of our resource base is a similarly clear commitment from the top, led by the Prime Minister, with a unique, high-quality organizational structure drawing expertise from across Canada, and a genuine partnership that will spearhead expansion of our resources, expedite infrastructure construction and bolster a broader diversification of our resources," he said.

Mr. Mulroney said he is convinced an agreement could be reached to respect aboriginal concerns and sustain the environment, saying pipelines are the safest means of transporting oil and generate fewer carbon emissions than shipment by rail, truck or barges.

At a news conference with Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, Mr. Trudeau said the government is determined to get Canadian oil to global markets, but it must be done in way that has broad public buy-in.

"The fact is, we need to get our resources to market in safe and reliable ways. The way that happens is up to the proponents of the projects, up to the regulators and the boards examining them. … It's up to a process that quite rightly shouldn't be about politics and should be about what's right for Canadians," Mr. Trudeau said. "The last government was cheerleader instead of a referee, and therefore couldn't get our resources to market."

In his speech, Mr. Mulroney pointed to a 2012 Informetrica study that showed a major oil pipeline project could generate a $1.4-trillion cumulative increase in GDP over 10 years and more than six million new jobs.

"It will make Canada one of the wealthiest and most influential countries on Earth, while vastly strengthening our sovereignty and our capacity for good and effective leadership in the world," he said.

The Trudeau cabinet must decide by Christmas whether to approve the $6.8-billion expansion of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline to carry Alberta crude to Vancouver. A decision on Energy East is at least 18 months away. Mr. Trudeau has consistently opposed the $7.8-billion Northern Gateway pipeline because it would run through the Great Bear Rainforest.