Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says Canada's commercial relations with the Untied States are in need of "a little extra tending," adding that complacency on both sides of the border is allowing policy disagreements such as the dispute over the Keystone XL pipeline to become bigger issues than need be the case.
Mr. Wall made the comment at the start of his second of three working days in Washington, where he's attempting to bolster support for TransCanada PipeLines Ltd.'s bid to run a pipeline from the oil sands in northern Alberta to refineries on coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
Canadian elected officials are displaying a new level of engagement with the U.S. government on Keystone – one that was missing a year ago when President Barack Obama delayed a decision on whether to allow TransCanada to build a pipeline across the border.
Mr. Wall called the Obama administration's pre-election decision on Keystone "frustrating," including it on a list of trade irritants that he thinks could have been avoided if officials were more engaged. He said he thinks Canada and the U.S. need to recognize there is a problem, and take steps to correct it.
"Like a long-lasting marriage, it's important to have a date night," he said.
Mr. Wall's visit suggests the shock of the Keystone delay – and potential refusal, as the Obama administration still must take a final decision – has spurred provinces to become less reliant on the federal trade ministry to take care of their economic interests.
A three-day lobby trip to Washington in the middle of the work week is unusual for a premier, and follows a visit by Alberta Premier Alison Redford, who spent the weekend in the U.S. capital two weeks ago to build political support for Keystone on the sidelines of a meeting of state governors.
Mr. Wall, working with the lobby firm of former U.S. ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, met a slate of House Republicans Wednesday, and is set to meet mostly Democrats in the Senate and administration Thursday.
The focus of both Mr. Wall's and Ms. Redford's trips was to counter the notion that Canada is lax on climate change. Mr. Wall is handing out promotional literature on his province's $1.2-billion carbon capture project, which he describes as world beating, and he says Saskatchewan's coal restrictions are tougher than those in the U.S.
Mr. Wall said the point of the effort is to give the president political "elbow room" to approve the Keystone project over the objections of the environment lobby, a core constituency in Mr. Obama's base of supporters.
It's something, he said, that Canada should have been doing a long time ago.
"We should have been doing a better job in this country, in this city," Mr. Wall said.