New Brunswick Premier David Alward is joining Alberta's effort to persuade Quebec it should back plans to move Canadian oil to the East Coast – plans that hinge on the energy industry's ability to build new pipelines across Quebec.
Mr. Alward has, in recent weeks, emerged as a key supporter of Alberta's bid to pump its crude oil east to refineries in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick and, potentially, to Atlantic export markets.
He spent Monday in the Fort McMurray area, touring oil sands operations run by Syncrude Canada Ltd. and Connacher Oil and Gas Ltd., as part of an Alberta trip that has seen the New Brunswick Conservative leader assume a more prominent national role as promoter of the energy industry.
Setting eyes on the oil sands, something he had never done before, "blows me away," said Mr. Alward, who marvelled at the "incredible scale" of the region's industrial operations as he drove along Highway 63, the area's heavily trafficked supply artery.
"It just really demonstrates how important it is, to not only the economy of Alberta but very importantly the economy of Canada," Mr. Alward said. His trip, he added, reinforced the idea of the great wealth that can be drawn from northeastern Alberta, as well as "the vulnerability that we have," both in the West and across Canada, "of having limited access to markets."
The Premier played down the environmental impact of the oil sands, which have attracted strong international opposition. Having companies show off "the actual reclamation work that is going on helps reinforce to me that this is not haphazard," he added.
Now he will take those arguments to Quebec, saying that the national economy and jobs depend on the growth of the oil sands, an expansion that demands new pipelines to carry oil to new markets. One of those markets could be Central and Eastern Canada, and persuading Quebec that the idea has merit has become a new goal for Mr. Alward.
He has already spoken to Quebec Premier Pauline Marois about the issue, and said intends to speak to her again upon his return from Alberta, to relay findings from his trip. "What's really important for everyone to realize is that this is a benefit to all of Canada," he said.
It is unclear whether Quebec could block construction of new pipelines, particularly if they are regulated by the National Energy Board, a federal authority. But provincial leaders can play a key role in shaping public opinion, making Ms. Marois' support a prize pursued both by Alberta Premier Alison Redford and, now, Mr. Alward.
The outcome of their efforts remains uncertain. For example, Ms. Marois has not yet declared a stance on TransCanada Corp.'s plan to move Alberta oil to Quebec or New Brunswick.
"We haven't made up our minds because the project is not advanced enough and there are too few details," said Marie Barrette, press secretary to Ms. Marois. "We are not against it, but it has to be in Quebec's interest."
Government officials from Alberta and Quebec are engaged in talks about plans by Enbridge Inc. to send western crude to Montreal by reversing the flow of an existing Quebec-to-Ontario pipeline, known as Line 9. The officials met as recently as last week, after a meeting between Ms. Marois and Ms. Redford at the premiers conference in Halifax last November.
In Alberta, meanwhile, Mr. Alward was scheduled to meet privately with many of the top figures in the oil patch at Calgary's Ranchmen's Club. Among the executives scheduled to attend were Russ Girling, Al Monaco and Ian Anderson, the respective heads of pipeline companies TransCanada, Enbridge and Kinder Morgan Canada; as well as Irving Oil president Mike Ashar; Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. chairman Murray Edwards; and Shell Canada president Lorraine Mitchelmore.
Although construction of a pipeline would be carried out by the private sector, Mr. Alward said he sees his role as helping to clear the way for the idea.
"Getting that discussion started [is] very important, and I feel good about that," he said. He added: "We know what our energy resources mean to prosperity, long-term as a country, and it only makes sense that we try to get the greatest value for that going forward."