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Quebec Premier Pauline Marois. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Clement AllardClement Allard/The Canadian Press

The ambitious plan to construct a new west-to-east oil pipeline is a laudable initiative, one that the Quebec government should see fit to back.

But if the other provinces on the proposed route are enthusiastic supporters of the idea, the minority Parti Québécois government is keeping its own counsel for the moment, saying it is open to discussion but refusing to commit.

It's a reasonable course of action under the circumstances.

The transport of bitumen and crude is a rightly sensitive topic in the province, as the shattered town of Lac-Mégantic begins to bury its dead.

The provincial government this week insisted that Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, proprietor of the runaway train that incinerated the municipality's downtown, and World Fuel Services, which owned the crude inside the tanker cars, should foot the bill for cleaning up the catastrophe.

In fact, the province is poised to put its long-standing "polluter-pays" legislation to the legal test, in order to recoup the required millions from MM&A, World Fuel and their insurers.

The PQ offers the most willing ear of any Canadian provincial government to environmentalists. That helps explain its reluctance to support reversing the flow of an existing pipeline that links Montreal and southwestern Ontario – known as Line 9 – and its extension of a moratorium on shale-gas exploration.

Premier Pauline Marois also understands the political risks of a public backlash, given the current levels of misgivings about a new pipeline project.

But the proposal from TransCanada Corp. provides for a brand new line that could surely be built while taking Quebec's safety and environmental concerns into account.

The Quebec government is right to drive the best bargain it can from the builders of the proposed new pipeline – as long as it does so within reason.

Ms. Marois and her sovereigntist government are not in the business of touting projects such as this, which, as New Brunswick Premier David Alward puts it, is a "nation-builder" for Canada. But this proposal would benefit Quebec's beleaguered refining industry, and would create jobs at a storage and transit terminal in the provincial capital.

The PQ may well be serious about its green plan and dealing with climate change, but it shouldn't ignore an opportunity to bolster the province's resource and energy economy, if the right deal is offered.

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