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Alberta, federal ministers defend Trans Mountain pipeline expansion amid opposition from B.C.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr says the fossil-fuel industry remains a critical part of Canada’s economy.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada's transition to a low-carbon future must include new pipelines to expand oil exports to a diverse global marketplace, federal and Alberta ministers told an energy conference in Winnipeg on Thursday.

In a panel discussion featuring federal and provincial ministers, Alberta Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd warned Ottawa against adopting an "extreme" regulatory approach that would discourage investment in the oil and gas sector.

Sitting next to her, B.C. Energy Minister Michelle Mungall stressed that the new provincial government's energy policy is focusing on reconciliation with Indigenous people, a pointed reference to opposition by several First Nations to the Trans Mountain pipeline project.

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In the discussion, Ms. McCuaig-Boyd and federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr suggested the fossil-fuel industry remains a critical part of the country's economy and must have access to growing demand in Asian markets.

Read more: What Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline will mean for B.C.'s coast

"There is an insatiable appetite for Canadian production [of oil and gas] in Asia," Mr. Carr said. "That's why we approved the Trans Mountain pipeline."

However, the Alberta minister expressed concerns that Ottawa is handicapping the industry with regulatory uncertainty. She criticized the former Conservative government for being "cheerleaders" for the sector but warned Ottawa "not to swing the pendulum to the other extreme."

The federal government is currently revamping the National Energy Board and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, which are responsible for environmental assessments of resource projects. "We don't want things to get so overlapped that it actually lengthens the time for any projects because that's going to scare away investors," Ms. McCuaig-Boyd said. "If it's easier to do business elsewhere, that's where the money will go."

Some environmental activists expressed concern that Ottawa and Alberta are promoting the expansion of crude exports from the oil sands. The ministers' comments were "disturbingly lacking in recognition of the challenges of climate change," said Adam Scott, of the advocacy group Oil Change International.

In a court challenge now under way, Ottawa and Alberta are defending the federal approval of the expansion project, which would triple the pipeline's capacity to carry crude to Vancouver harbour. B.C.'s NDP government has intervened in support of several First Nations and municipalities that are challenging the project.

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Ms. Mungall said her government is committed to reconciliation with First Nations and argued Ottawa neglected that responsibility by approving Kinder Morgan Inc.'s Trans Mountain project.

"It really is incumbent on the federal government to be working with those First Nations in terms of what their concerns are, rather than just barrelling through," she said.

Mr. Carr is leading the federal effort to forge a pan-Canadian energy strategy in order to implement the policies and technological innovation needed to move to an affordable, low-carbon energy economy.

In an interview at the end of the conference, Mr. Carr said the government will use the discussion – which included energy executives and experts from across the spectrum – to inform its emerging energy strategy.

While tensions between oil and gas interests and clean-energy advocates were apparent over the two days, Mr. Carr argued new bridges have been built.

"I think, as we emerge on the other side [of the discussion], people do see that there is a role for traditional industry, there is a role for private entrepreneurship and innovation, and that we have the best chance of leading the world if we work together towards a common objective."

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