Keystone XL matters, but Alberta's relationship with the United States is far larger and more important than any single pipeline, Premier Jim Prentice told a powerful business audience at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce just across from the White House.
The Premier's long view in his measured, almost understated speech on Wednesday was in sharp contrast to the demanding urgency that has characterized the lobbying by some of his former federal cabinet colleagues.
"The energy relationship shared by Alberta and the United States is much bigger than Keystone," Mr. Prentice said. "We need a renewed focus on the bigger picture and the longer term."
Almost exactly a year ago, a fevered John Baird, then the Canadian foreign minister, told the same U.S. Chamber of Commerce audience: "The time for a decision on Keystone is now, even if it's not the right one," adding: "We can't continue in this state of limbo."
That drew a gentle put-down from State Secretary John Kerry who publicly reminded Mr. Baird that the approval timetable wasn't set by foreigners, no matter how often they trumpeted that they were close friends and valiant allies.
Now, as the long-delayed Keystone XL decision finally seems within sight and with President Barack Obama voicing doubts about whether the pipeline offers much benefit to Americans, Mr. Prentice was laying out bigger arguments.
"I do take the long view," he said, making clear that whatever Mr. Obama's decision, huge flows of Alberta's oil were nevertheless headed for the United States. "The Keystone issue is really a debate about whether Canadian oil will be moved in the United States by pipeline or by alternative means, specifically by rail. This Canadian product will find its way to the Gulf Coast where it will be refined in American refineries."
With fewer than two years left before a new president is sitting in the Oval Office, the prospect of more waiting didn't seem to worry Mr. Prentice.
"We experienced a significant delay to this point. If that delay continues on, we'll weather that," he said in a short news conference after the speech.
Mr. Prentice never mentioned the President in his luncheon speech, but it was clear he believes market forces will trump a decision by Mr. Obama should he reject TransCanada Corp.'s $8-billion pipeline to send upward of one million barrels of Alberta oil sands crude to the Gulf.
"It's not my place to predict what this President will do or who the next president will be," he said. Rather, he added: "The logic of the Keystone pipeline is so strong and so compelling," and left the thought hanging.
The veteran politician wouldn't be drawn in when asked directly whether he expected the next president to reverse Mr. Obama's decision if he rejects Keystone XL on the grounds it will worsen global warming.
In his speech, Mr. Prentice pitched the advantages of a continental, integrated energy market both in terms of security, independence from unsavoury and unfriendly suppliers and the opportunity for North America to lead in emissions reductions. He said there was a grave and growing risk of local and regional rules that will create a regulatory patchwork in place of a continental free market in energy.
"We're actually headed for the worst of all worlds: a proliferation at the subnational level of diverse standards that apply to some kinds of oil but not others, some forms of energy, but not others and some forms of transportation but not others," he said. "In some U.S. jurisdictions, we are seeing policy proposals that are designed to exclude oil sands crude from Alberta while giving a free pass to comparable oils from other countries like Venezuela or heavy domestic crudes from California."
The Alberta Premier left for New Jersey late Wednesday. He's planning to meet Governor Chris Christie, the Republican who recently made a high-profile visit to Canada, including Alberta, and is widely expected to run for his party's presidential nomination in 2016.
Mr. Prentice plans to be back in Washington later this month for a nationwide governors' meeting.