An east-west alliance is developing between the premiers of New Brunswick and Alberta to push the proposed $12-billion Energy East pipeline.
In Edmonton this week, New Brunswick's Brian Gallant met with his Alberta counterpart, Rachel Notley, promoting a new "brand" for the TransCanada Corp. project, which would take Alberta crude oil to the Irving Refinery in Saint John.
The strategy will be to promote the project as a job-creation venture that is environmentally sustainable, saying these two elements are parallel, not mutually exclusive.
The premiers' sales pitch differs from that of their predecessors, Alison Redford and David Alward, both Conservatives, who tried to sell the project as a job and wealth creator that would unify the country much like the transcontinental railroad that connected Eastern Canada with British Columbia in the 1880s.
That strategy included little discussion about the environmental impact of running the pipeline across the country and through to the Bay of Fundy.
"If we as a country are going to develop our natural resources and energy projects, we need to have a brand and credibility with Canadians and the international community …," Mr. Gallant said in an interview with The Globe and Mail this week. "We have to show [that], in parallel to developing our natural resources and energy projects, we are playing our role to combat climate change."
This was the first in-depth bilateral meeting between Ms. Notley and Mr. Gallant. They met briefly at the premiers' conference in St. John's in the summer.
Both premiers believe the proposed pipeline is crucial to the Canadian economy, if done sustainably. The pipeline would be an economic boost for both provinces.
Ms. Notley, Alberta's first NDP premier, has created a panel to look at ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. Gallant's government is considering how to strengthen the previous provincial Conservative government's climate change action plan. Mr. Gallant says he is considering all options.
In the summer, he and the premiers of other eastern provinces, including Quebec, and the New England governors agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 35 to 40 per cent under 1990 levels by 2030.
The recent election and change in the federal government has also put a new complexion on the issue. Although prime-minister-designate Justin Trudeau has not fully endorsed Energy East, Mr. Gallant is optimistic the new leader will help build the brand and credibility with Canadians and internationally enough to see it through.
"I think that will help immensely when it comes to developing our natural resources and energy products, because then people will know within Canada and outside of Canada that when we do develop these projects, we do it in a sustainable way," he said.
For most of his nearly 10-year tenure, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper talked about Canada as an energy superpower while practically ignoring the environmental side of the issue, but never got any pipelines built.
Mr. Trudeau is trying to balance both issues – and it will be tricky. To start, he is taking the provincial premiers, including Ms. Notley and Mr. Gallant, to Paris in late November for the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
For Mr. Gallant, this is an important gesture. "… There is no doubt that when we all find ourselves in Paris, we are all going to be focused on making sure that the message is loud and clear to the international community that Canada is back at the table when it comes to protecting the environment and combatting climate change," he said.
He and Ms. Notley will use some of their time with the other premiers to lobby for Energy East. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard have conditions for the project to go through their provinces.
The National Energy Board, which is assessing the project application, ultimately decides, but provinces can intervene. Ontario and Quebec's conditions include consulting First Nations and other communities, and consideration of the pipeline's effect on climate change.
"All these things I believe are very reasonable principles and ones which are achievable when it comes to the Energy East pipeline," Mr. Gallant said.
The pipeline proposal is not popular in Quebec. During the recent election campaign, for example, a Bloc Québécois ad that attacked NDP leader Thomas Mulcair showed a drop of oil leaking from a pipeline turning into a niqab. Although Mr. Mulcair supported women's right to wearing niqabs – a controversial stand in Quebec – he was lukewarm about the Energy East pipeline project.