Canada's oil industry has a friend in New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
The Republican presidential hopeful on Thursday used a sold-out speech at the Calgary Petroleum Club – his first stop on his inaugural visit to Canada as governor – to chide U.S. President Barack Obama for delaying approval of TransCanada Corp.'s contentious Keystone XL pipeline.
"Keystone has now languished for six years," Mr. Christie, who also chairs the Republican Governors Association, told a standing-room only crowd of energy executives and financiers. "And I think this sends a very unfortunate signal."
"First, it reduces the willingness of investors to make significant investments in large scale, capital-intensive products that are needed to help our energy reach its customers.
Here in Canada, by limiting the ability of increased production from the Canadian oil sands to get to market, it stunts production and growth.
"Secondly, this is no way to treat a key American ally," he added, during a 35-minute address that elicited a standing ovation.
"This is not about sending 'your oil' across 'our land,'" Mr. Christie said. "It's about maximizing the benefits of North America's natural resources for all, about allowing markets to function, and about contributing to the prosperity of citizens of both the United States and Canada."
Earlier Thursday, Mr. Christie met with Alberta Premier Jim Prentice and talked about energy and trade.
Keystone XL would enable up to 830,000 barrels a day of oil sands and North Dakota Bakken crude to flow to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The project has been delayed for years by political wrangling and opposition from environmentalists who say the pipeline will exacerbate fast-rising greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands.
In some of his sharpest criticism of the $8-billion project to date, Mr. Obama last month revived a line used by Keystone XL's biggest detractors when he said it would be used to pump oil sands crude to global markets, bypassing U.S. refineries.
"Understand what this project is," the President said while on a visit to Myanmar. "It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else."
Mr. Christie said the delay over Keystone has hurt Canada-U.S. relations, while forcing more oil to be shipped on railways and by truck. "That affords flexibility, but it is not without risk, or without higher costs."
The Governor, who is scheduled to be in Toronto and Ottawa on Friday, met behind closed doors with energy industry executives, including Murray Edwards, founder and chairman of oil sands independent Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.; Rich Kruger, chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp.-controlled Imperial Oil Ltd.; and Al Monaco, CEO of Enbridge Inc.
He used his speech to burnish his foreign policy credentials, at one point praising Canada's involvement in the American-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq. He also advocated for improved labour mobility and smoother cross-border trade.
The Governor, widely pegged as a leading contender for the Republican nomination, said he would make his presidential ambitions known next year. "I'm not the shy and retiring type, so when I make a decision I'll be sure to tell you," he said.
Keystone backers in the U.S. Congress have pledged to make the pipeline a priority item once a Republican-controlled Senate resumes sitting next year. TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said he welcomed the Governor's support for the project.
"He's obviously very supportive of trade and the trade relationship between our two countries," he told reporters. Mr. Girling noted TransCanada, which helped sponsor Mr. Christie's appearance, already has a relationship with New Jersey; its Ravenswood power plant in Queens, N.Y., helped power relief efforts following Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
"A trade relationship with him today and in the future is going to be important to us."