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The Prime Minister is threatening to prevent foreign environmental interests from delaying the approval of a pipeline that would take bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to the West Coast for shipment to Asian markets.

The petroleum lobby group, which wants "foreigners and foreign groups" to be excluded from hearings on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that are to begin next week, appears to have a sympathetic ear in Stephen Harper.

"Growing concern has been expressed to me about the use of foreign money to really overload the public consultation phase of regulatory hearings just for the purpose of slowing down the process," the Prime Minister told reporters Friday in Edmonton.

"This is something that is not good for the Canadian economy and the government of Canada will be taking a close look at how we can ensure that our regulatory processes are effective and deliver decisions in a reasonable amount of time."

On Thursday, Kathryn Marshall, a spokesperson for said Canadians have much at stake in the construction of the pipeline and "must take a stand against foreigners and their lobbying groups interfering in our decision."

The group says the organizations registered to give testimony at the pipeline hearings include companies owned by foreign interests including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's oil company, CITGO.

Mr. Harper said the government would not interfere in the regulatory process.

But, particularly in light of decisions made in the United States, where the construction of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline has been threatened by the lobbying of environmentalists, Mr. Harper said his government is clear about the necessity for broadening Canada's markets for energy products.

"I think it is particularly essential for this country that, over time, we have the capacity to sell our energy products into the growing markets of Asia," he said.

"We want to ensure in Canada that we have a regulator system that protects our environment and obviously protects worker safety and various other community interests," Mr. Harper said. "At the same time, though, we have to have processes in Canada that come to a decision in a reasonable amount of time and processes that cannot be hijacked."

Mike Hudema, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, said it is refreshing to know that environmentalists, community groups, indigenous groups and average people concerned about health, water, land and a global climate crisis can both worry and stop the largest, dirtiest, multinational oil companies.

"Tar sands companies with multimillion dollar public relations budgets backed by a government that takes its talking points from a former tobacco lobbyist are feeling the pain of the toxic truth about what they are doing to the planet," said Mr. Hudema. "It is time for the Harper government to pull its head out of the tar sands and look at who the true climate criminals are."

The Prime Minister was also asked about a proposal by Alberta Premier Alison Redford to create a national energy strategy that would pull together Alberta's oil sands, the hydro power of British Columbia, offshore oil in the Atlantic and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's green-energy agenda.

Mr. Harper said he has been broached by Ms. Redford about the idea and is anticipating a meeting in the near future with Alberta and with several other provinces to get more details

"The approach of the federal government for some years has been to have an energy sector that is primarily driven by market demand," the Prime Minister said. "That policy I think generally has served this part of the country and served the country as a whole quite well."

The Conservative government has made it clear it considers the oil sands to be critical to Canada's economic growth and job creation.

On Friday, Statistics Canada said 17,500 new jobs were created in this country in December.

Mr. Harper said that was good news as were the job numbers from the United States where 200,000 more people were working last month than in November.

"This has been one of the things that has been lacking over the past couple of years," he said. "We have seen 600,000 net new jobs created in Canada, but we haven't been seeing the kind of job growth we need in the United States to help with our trade."