New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant is aiming to ease provincial concerns over the proposed Energy East pipeline during his first premiers' summit at a time when other provinces are pushing for agreement around a national energy plan focused on climate change.
Even with the price of oil's dramatic plunge, Mr. Gallant said there is still a strong business case for the pipeline that would deliver western crude to New Brunswick refineries and ports for shipping abroad.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard outlined a list of seven principles last fall that would guide their decision on whether to support the pipeline. However, the two provinces appeared to soften their stand in December when they said they would not weigh the extra greenhouse-gas emissions generated by increased production to supply the pipeline as part of their decision.
"It's important to understand what those preoccupations and concerns are if we're going to help the other premiers and help the country address them," said Mr. Gallant, who arrived for two days of meetings in Ottawa as the key proponent of the pipeline because Alberta Premier Jim Prentice and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall are not attending.
"I believe that they're very reasonable but I also believe they're achievable," Mr. Gallant said of Ontario and Quebec's list of principles. The apparent change in position from Ontario and Quebec disappointed pipeline critics. Environmental groups and some municipal councils have raised concerns about the risk that a pipeline break could pollute drinking water. A consultant's report for the Ontario Energy Board concluded TransCanada's application failed to spell out how it would protect major streams and ground water sources across the province.
The board is wrapping up hearings into the project and will provide a report to the Liberal cabinet, which then has to determine what position it will take in the federal regulatory review.
TransCanada, the company behind the proposed pipeline, is also facing opposition from Ontario– and Quebec-based utilities, including Union Gas and Gaz Métro, over its plan to convert the pipeline from gas to oil service. The local distribution companies argue the gas pipeline is often full in winter between North Bay and Cornwall, and that TransCanada's plan will shift costs and supply risks onto the shoulders of Ontario and Quebec consumers. TransCanada says it is willing to build new capacity for customers that are willing to lock into long-term contracts.
The annual meeting of premiers is taking place Friday, just a few blocks away from the Prime Minister's Office, but Stephen Harper will not be attending. Ms. Wynne arrived early Thursday to hold a meeting and news conference with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, where the two spoke of the need for Ottawa to work more closely with the provinces in areas such as energy policy.
"I'm not going to give up on the idea that we have a federal government that would be engaged at the federal level in taking a position on the world stage in terms of reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions," said Ms. Wynne.
Falling oil prices and a sliding Canadian dollar are expected to benefit the Ontario and Quebec economies, but will hit oil-producing provinces such as Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador hard.
Ms. Wynne said there's no doubt that a lower dollar helps manufacturers, but noted that the changing dynamics are not all positive and that more than 1,100 Ontario companies are linked to Alberta's oil sands.
"To pretend that somehow we are functioning on our own is not realistic," she said. "I don't believe that the way our economic union should work is that I'm looking for success at the expense of another province."
Mr. Trudeau said that if he became prime minister, he would commit to holding annual meetings with the premiers.
"We need to have a prime minister who understands that this is a federation and that means we work together," Mr. Trudeau said.