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Energy and Resources Liberal government will not become bitter adversary of the oil industry

It didn't take long for environmental groups across the continent to hail the victory of Justin Trudeau's Liberals as an immense opportunity to turn the page on fossil fuels.

It seems so simple now: With the Conservatives under Stephen Harper pushed out in Ottawa after nearly a decade, get ready for instant action on cancelling pipeline proposals, eliminating carbon emissions and flipping on the switch to the green economy.

Whoa there. Take a breath.

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It's true that the Liberals' campaign platform offers optimism that Canada will stop being a laggard on climate issues at the international table, that concrete measures to cut carbon emissions could finally be in the works after nearly two decades of promise without action.

It also brings hope for a new era in federal relations with First Nations, which will spill over into energy, and spells the likely end of at least one pipeline project that's become contentious and problematic.

Still, environmentalists and, for that matter, Mr. Trudeau will soon find out just how complex and difficult energy-related issues are.

The former will have to get used to the idea that the latter will, like all leaders, have to govern from the middle, and that means not turning his back on Alberta and the half-million Canadians who draw paycheques from some form of energy business.

Don't expect the Liberals to shut down the oil sands. Heck, it was under a Liberal government that development of the massive Northern Alberta resources kicked into high gear in the 1990s. Expect regulations surrounding the developments to get a bit more stringent, though.

The prime-minister-designate has already said he supports North American green groups' most despised symbol of "dirty oil," TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL pipeline to southern U.S. refineries, though not Mr. Harper's style of aggressive lobbying on its behalf.

Mr. Trudeau has said that moving crude oil by train can have dire consequences, so pipelines such as that are a preferred way of getting energy products to market. The key, he says, is establishing regulations that give people comfort that they are being operated safely.

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Keystone XL, though, is still years away, if it proceeds at all. Even Mr. Harper had conceded that the project will likely not be approved during President Barack Obama's term in office.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has also recently voiced opposition to it, raising questions about its longer-term fate.

There are other projects on the drawing board, however, and to expect the Liberals to turn Canada away from exporting its resources would be misreading the body language.

Mr. Trudeau has spoken of the importance of setting national standards for emission reduction, and letting the provinces devise their own systems for doing so. But he has also said Canada is a trading nation.

He made quite a show before the election of speaking at the Petroleum Club in downturn Calgary, the haven for oil-patch conclaves.

There, he took shots at the Harper government for failing to lead on climate policy, which actually hindered the energy sector's efforts to send oil sands-derived crude to new markets.

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It appears that the Liberals see fossil fuels as an economic necessity, but have softened the edges of its policy to foster growth with plans to establish a $2-billion fund for projects that will cut carbon emissions.

Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat, B.C., from Alberta, appears to be headed for oblivion.

Mr. Trudeau has said the rugged West Coast is no place for oil-tanker traffic, which could rule out that project, although it has stalled amid more than 200 conditions its permit spells out.

The Liberals have stepped lightly around the other oil-transport project proposed across B.C., the expansion of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline to Burnaby.

There's clearly much room for Canada to begin to rebuild its reputation as a good environmental steward, and a new government in place should kick-start the process with new policies. The environmental community is bound to get a much better hearing than under the Harper government.

But to believe that the end of oil has arrived at Canada's shores on a wave of red is unrealistic.

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