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A fisherman paddles the waters of the Kitimat Arm of the Douglas Channel recently in northern British Columbia near to where Enbridge Inc. plans to build its Northern Gateway pipeline terminal facility.

STAFF/REUTERS

The Harper government has delivered a clear message to the United States that it is determined to forge export routes through British Columbia for growing oil sands production, just days before it announces its long-awaited decision on the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline.

Senior Conservative ministers travelled to New York this week to speak to a Goldman Sachs forum on North American energy, and to drive home Ottawa's focus on winning new pipeline outlets for Alberta producers. Those include the long-stalled Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast, and projects that would transport crude to Canada's east and west coasts.

On Wednesday, Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford delivered a defence of Canada's resource policies, and an appeal for U.S. investment in its energy industry. He followed appearances the previous day by Finance Minister Joe Oliver and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

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The Goldman Sachs session was attended by top corporate executives and investors in the North American energy sector, as well as policy experts and government officials from Canada, Mexico and the United States.

In a morning discussion, Mr. Rickford noted Canada has tremendous and growing productive capacity, and is looking to access markets through the U.S. Gulf and to overseas customers by way of Canadian ports. Like his cabinet colleagues, he urged the U.S. administration to approve the Keystone XL project, saying it would contribute to the North American economy and its energy security.

With a Gateway decision imminent, a group of politicians and business leaders have signed an open letter calling on government to approve Northern Gateway, a "project for Canada." Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, Alberta Premier Dave Hancock and former premiers and cabinet ministers including Mike Harris, John Manley, Chuck Strahl, Ernie Eves and Stockwell Day signed the letter.

The federal government is due to release its decision on Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway pipeline, which would deliver 520,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen to a terminal at Kitimat, B.C.

A review panel recommended last December that Ottawa approve the pipeline, subject to Enbridge meeting 209 conditions. The Conservative government is expected to do so while emphasizing the work that Enbridge still needs to do to meet those conditions and win support from the B.C. government and First Nations.

Mr. Rickford did not talk about the Enbridge project specifically but he reinforced Mr. Oliver's comments this week that the government views access to fast-growing Asian markets for the oil sands to be a national priority.

"Americans' demand [for crude imports] will decrease as they ramp up their own productive capacity," Mr. Rickford said in an interview. "So we have to get to other markets.

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"In the context of British Columbia and the Pacific Coast, we've demonstrated a strong desire to walk in lockstep with the province of British Columbia and our First Nations to develop safety standards and liability regimes."

Enbridge chief executive Al Monaco sounded confident about winning a green light from Ottawa but acknowledged the company still faces opposition from the local population.

Winning over local residents is a slow process, he said, declining to put a time frame on the effort.

B.C. Finance Minister Michael de Jong said Ottawa needs to make clear to the Americans that when it comes to oil exports, Canada has options beyond the U.S. The B.C. government has not endorsed either Northern Gateway or Kinder Morgan's proposed TransMountain expansion.

"Canada has options and other pipeline routes are available," Mr. de Jong said in an interview from New York. "There are clearly some hurdles and challenges that we'll have to overcome to realize on those options, but I think they can be overcome," he said.

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