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Alberta Energy Minister McCuaig-Boyd optimistic about ties to Beijing

After meetings in China with manufacturers, government agencies and energy companies, Margaret McCuaig-Boyd left persuaded that another major wave of Chinese money is preparing to hit Alberta.

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Her New Democratic Party has stood against the Northern Gateway pipeline, and questioned current plans for expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. It has raised corporate taxes, will soon bring in a new greenhouse gas regime and has promised to have another run at the province's royalty regime.

None of this would seem to endear Alberta Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd to China, a country whose own investments in Canadian oil and gas have been a painful lesson in the dangers of buying high.

But on her first official trip outside North America, Ms. McCuaig-Boyd argued that ties between Beijing and Edmonton – not to mention Fort McMurray – are strengthening, that Chinese money will continue to pour into Canadian energy and that, one day, more oil will flow to the west coast for global export.

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"We just need a pipeline built right now," Ms. McCuaig-Boyd said in an interview at China's National Energy Administration in Beijing Monday. She added: "We're looking at whoever is going to get us there the quickest."

But after years of political wrangling in Canada and the United States that has delayed construction of important new pipelines, the new Alberta government remains short on new ideas for how to make that happen. Asked what might be the quickest way to get barrels to China, Ms. McCuaig-Boyd offered little in the way of specifics. "There's the pipelines, there's the train, there's boats. It's all something we'll need to work out with our federal counterparts and with China. I think you need a blend just to get things here."

Rail, in particular, offers a method of moving barrels west that might start earlier than pipelines, and Ms. McCuaig-Boyd said she "heard some interest" in the possibility during meetings in China, which saw her sit down with manufacturers, government agencies and energy companies.

She came away from those meetings persuaded another major wave of Chinese money is preparing to hit Alberta. "We heard an appetite for further investment," she said, that could be "equal to or more" than the province has already seen.

The years that followed CNOOC Ltd.'s 2012 acquisition of Nexen Inc. have seen a dramatic decrease in Chinese investment, and complaints from existing Chinese investors about the performance of their Canadian assets. With oil prices expected to remain low, it's not clear what might reinvigorate cross-Pacific deal-making.

Ms. McCuaig-Boyd suggested that Alberta's new climate change policies, expected in coming weeks, might actually help to woo Chinese investment since they demonstrate that the province shares China's own ambitions to "leave this planet better for our children and grandchildren." She acknowledged, however, that "we all agreed we need the prices [of oil] probably to be a little higher" to give deal-making a boost.

And she admitted the NDP approach to China is "not so much different" from the Progressive Conservatives before – an approach that showed little success in bringing oil to new places. "We're just continuing that relationship."

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Ms. McCuaig-Boyd left China Friday having succeeded in expanding the formal relationship between Alberta and China National Petroleum Corp., with a memorandum of understanding that includes "placing heightened emphasis on promoting market access" as one of its goals.

But for some Canadian energy companies, China remains a limited priority. Asked whether Encana Corp. was interested in investing in China's growing shale gas sector, vice-president of government relations Richard Dunn said, "No, no, no." Encana joined Ms. McCuaig-Boyd's trip out of "support for the mission," he said.

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About the Author
Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More

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