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A depot used to store pipes for Transcanada Corp's planned Keystone XL oil pipeline is seen in Gascoyne, North Dakota November 14, 2014.

© Reuters Photographer / Reuter

TransCanada Corp. joined hands with construction unions on Thursday to demonstrate support for its Energy East pipeline project, which goes to public hearings next month.

At a ceremony in a union training facility in Ottawa, TransCanada chief executive officer Russ Girling signed an agreement with four unions committing to employ their members in the $15.7-billion project – assuming that it receives federal approval two years from now.

The union leaders said the jobs that will be created in the construction phase – estimated at 14,000 direct and spinoff positions – are well-paying and sorely needed.

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"Pipeline construction work requires a large number of highly skilled workers, which in turns creates high-paying jobs for Canadians," said Joe Mancinelli, international vice-president of the Labourers' International Union of North America.

Mr. Girling acknowledged that the west-to-east pipeline faces considerable opposition, including from First Nations in Quebec, which insist that they must give their consent before new portions of the line can be built across their traditional territory.

He said the company has held 2,400 consultation meetings with aboriginal communities along the pipeline's 4,500-kilometre route.

"We've had a good start, but we have a long way to go," he said. "… There is always initial misunderstanding and we need to work our way through those and understand what their concerns are and work our way through them. It's a big task, but we're up to the big task."

Opposition from First Nations communities has blocked the way for Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway pipeline and threatens Kinder Morgan Inc.'s TransMountain expansion to Vancouver.

Federal cabinet ministers attended the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations this week in Niagara Falls, Ont., and committed to a full partnership in resource development. The government has endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but it remains unclear how it will incorporate the principle that those people should have the right to free, prior and informed consent over projects in their traditional territories.

Mr. Girling expressed confidence that TransCanada can succeed where Enbridge has failed with Northern Gateway in winning over its aboriginal opponents – and in persuading Canadians generally about the "nation-building" promising of the Energy East project. But his company was stymied in its own effort to win U.S. approval for the Keystone XL pipeline when President Barack Obama blocked it on environmental grounds.

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Mr. Girling said the world will rely on oil for many years to come, and he noted that the Liberal federal government supports the need to gain greater market access for Canadian resources.

"This is about using Canadian workers to move Canadian oil to Canadian refineries," he said.

He deflected questions about how much of the 1.1 million barrels per day of crude moving through the pipeline would be exported to world markets, saying that is for his customers to decide.

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