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Frank McKenna is a former premier of New Brunswick and former Canadian ambassador to the United States. He is on the board of directors at Canadian Natural Resources.

TransCanada's filing with the National Energy Board for approval of its $12-billion Energy East project marks a significant milestone in the evolution of our country's economic landscape.

At its core, Energy East intends to transport up to 1.1 million barrels of Western Canadian crude to Eastern Canada per day. It means the conversion of 3,000 kilometres of underutilized natural gas pipe and the construction of 1,600 kilometres of new oil pipeline, primarily in Quebec and New Brunswick.

But in reality, Energy East represents far more than that.

With more than 175 billion barrels of oil, Canada ranks third in the world in proven crude oil reserves – the largest oil reserve in the world that is open for private investment. And while Canada is already reaping huge economic benefits from development of the oil sands, the economic potential is even more staggering.

In fact, according to a report by Deloitte, it's estimated that the oil sands will create $2.1-trillion in economic benefits across Canada in the next 25 years, including more than $780-billion in taxes paid to the federal and provincial governments.

Alas, even with this huge economic impact on the country, there is much money lost by being captive to a single market. Ninety-eight per cent of our oil production goes to the United States. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce recently estimated that we have been losing as much as $50-million a day because of the lack of a competitive market for our production. Imagine what Canadians could do with that extra money. A pipeline to tidal water and global markets will help mitigate these losses.

There are other benefits to the country as well.

In Western Canada, we have large reserves of oil and yet in Eastern Canada, we have three refineries (two in Quebec and one in New Brunswick) that import about 80 per cent of their feedstock. These are oil imports of about 700,000 barrels a day that Eastern Canadians rely on, coming from countries such as Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Angola and Venezuela.

Energy East is not only capable of displacing 100 per cent of this foreign oil, it can also help provide an element of energy security and stability that Eastern Canadians have never enjoyed. That is to say nothing of the forecasted cost of oil supplied to eastern refineries, which some estimate could decline by more than $10 a barrel, leading to lower gasoline prices at the pump.

In addition to serving as a much-needed outlet to bring Western Canada's oil to new markets, and providing a greater measure of energy self-sufficiency for Eastern Canada, Energy East has even more allure.

With the International Energy Agency projecting a global demand for energy products to expand by 35 per cent in the next 25 years, the Energy East export terminals in Quebec and Saint John will pave the way for our oil and gas exports to increase substantially beyond their current total of 18 per cent of Canada's total exports. And all along the way, from exploration and recovery to transportation and use, Energy East will deliver thousands upon thousands of jobs for Canadians from coast to coast.

In fact, Energy East changes the game for the entire oil-and-gas sector in Canada. It's good for Alberta, opening up access to domestic and world markets. It helps Eastern Canada rid itself of its dependency on foreign supplies of oil that often come from countries with considerable instability and values that are not ours. In addition, there are significant benefits for all provinces in terms of job creation and badly needed tax revenues. Along with tremendous short-term benefits, it presents intriguing downstream development opportunities for the East Coast, providing a glimmer of hope to a perpetually struggling regional economy. Access to lower price labour and materials as well as tidal water capable of importing lower cost inputs represent very interesting opportunities for future mutually beneficial collaboration.

Our country has always had its regional differences, and the Energy East pipeline is not going to change that by itself. That said, following the National Energy Board's due diligence and further input from various parties (including First Nations and environmental organizations), I would hope that one thing becomes abundantly clear. The Energy East project represents one of those rare opportunities to bring all provinces and regions of this country together to support a project that will benefit us all, and that is truly in the national interest.

In fact, it's being suggested more and more, that Energy East, much like the Canadian railway, is a true representation of nation-building at its very best. And, as we approach the country's 150th anniversary in 2017, it is my fervent hope that by the time we're celebrating that historic moment, Energy East will be well on its way to becoming reality.