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Former Industry Minister Jim Prentice, now CIBC's vice-chair, says Canada needs to push forward on pipeline construction so it can export the oil and gas in Western Canada to markets in Asia.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

A former top Conservative cabinet minister says it's time for Canada to look beyond the Obama era if it wants to push economic integration with the United States to a new level.

Jim Prentice says that includes pushing for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been stalled by the logjam of U.S. domestic politics – something he says probably won't change in the next three years.

Prentice says new gas discoveries in both countries have transformed North America's economic landscape, and the federal government should set its sights on 2017 when Barack Obama's successor arrives in the White House.

Once that time come, Prentice says, Canada will have an 18-month window to capture the new American president's attention on bilateral issues.

"We must set our priorities, tailor our agenda and make our preparations with that small window of opportunity in mind. The next one will arrive in 2017," Prentice, now a senior bank executive, says in a speech today to the Economic Club of Canada.

Prentice, a former environment and industry minister, left politics more than three years ago but has at times been touted as a possible successor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Harper and Obama meet face to face next week in Mexico, at a one-day summit of North America's three leaders.

Prentice says the "list of irritants is long" in the Canada-U.S. relationship and includes not only the unresolved Keystone issue but softwood lumber, and a "thickening" border that is slowing trade.

"At the same time, our comfortable and familiar relationship in the realm of energy has been radically transformed by North America's supply revolution," he says.

In the intervening three years, Prentice says Canada needs to push forward on pipeline construction, particularly to the British Columbia coast, so it can export the oil and gas in Western Canada to markets in Asia.

He is also calling for greater engagement by the government with aboriginal groups to further that end.

Prentice also says more attention needs to be paid to climate change, because the issue is inextricably linked to the growth in the energy sector.

"Focusing on environment policy isn't exclusively a question of morality. Increasingly, it's an economic imperative," he says. "Around the world, the wave of concern over climate change crested a few years ago – but those who are paying attention can see that the next wave is building.

"That wave will come, and Canada needs to be ready for it. If you are in the energy business today, you are in the environment business."