Alison Redford will take her energy pitch to China next month, building ties in a market she hopes will drive Alberta's economic growth for years to come.
Ms. Redford announced Thursday she plans on attending the two-day Euromoney Canada-China Investors Forum in Beijing on June 27 and 28. It means she won't attend an international climate summit in Rio de Janeiro a few days earlier.
"Now is the time for Alberta to build deeper trade and investment roots in Asian countries," Ms. Redford said in a written statement released by her office. "It is critically important to explore growing markets and cultivate economic relationships abroad, for the benefit of all Canadians."
Industry leaders asked her to attend, she told reporters Thursday evening, as a way to help "build our markets and ensure we're telling Alberta's story." Much of the growth in Alberta's energy sector is pinned to Asian market demand, which is the driving force behind the push for new pipelines to the west coast. "Strengthening this relationship is key to Canada's economic growth and key to Alberta's energy future," she said.
Ms. Redford's visit follows that of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who visited China in February, and is the latest in a string of Canadian efforts to build ties with China. Her predecessor, Ed Stelmach, also visited China.
"I think it's very much following the momentum of Prime Minister Harper's February visit," said Wenran Jiang, a University of Alberta political science professor who advises the province on navigating Asian markets. "This premier has been always taking Asia very seriously, and has expressed interest in visiting Asia as soon as possible. And this has been consistent with the Asian market diversification drive the Alberta government has pursued for several years."
On April 27, one day after winning a majority government, Ms. Redford said she would go personally to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, which runs from June 20 to 22. The conference provided Alberta an opportunity to highlight its efforts on environmental monitoring as other countries, notably those in Europe, scrutinize the province's oil sands.
Instead, Alberta's Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen will go to Rio, as Ms. Redford chose to court Asian markets instead. "It just wouldn't work," to do both, due to scheduling conflicts, said Jay O'Neill, a spokesman for the premier. This [China trip]opportunity came up after that," Ms. Redford said in explaining her switch of travel plans.
Ms. Redford says she plans to speak at the conference as well as take bilateral meetings with Chinese leaders during the short trip, but said she wouldn't consider it a full-scale trade mission. The Beijing conference has a long list of prominent Chinese and Canadian speakers, including the chief executive officer of Suncor Energy, former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice (who is a long-time friend of Ms. Redford) and several prominent Chinese government officials.
"The Chinese will be very pleased to see the Alberta premier, after the election, follow up so quickly. There's no doubt about it," said Prof. Jiang, who runs an annual Canada-China Energy and Environment Forum. "It only shows how important the Asian market is to Canada, but especially to Alberta."
Alberta's exports to China average about $2.7-billion annually, while imports average $1.5-million, according to provincial figures. China is also a major investor in Alberta's energy sector, but it is most appealing to Ms. Redford as a potential market for oil, should the province find a route or pipeline to get its products overseas. Ms. Redford said she began laying the ground-work for a trip to China since becoming premier last fall, and before last month's election.