CALGARY — Alberta Premier Jim Prentice says he’ll “do what needs to be done” to help move forward the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline and to gain access to Asian markets for the province’s oil and gas.
Prentice was asked Friday if he would take a direct role in negotiating with chiefs in the areas of northern B.C. where the pipeline is supposed to run.
“I’m not going to get into that today, but I’ll tell you this – our prosperity in this province depends on our ability to access global markets. Otherwise we don’t get global prices and I will do what is needed to be done as premier of this province to make sure we realize that potential,” he said.
There has been stiff opposition to Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline, which would transport 525,000 barrels of oilsands crude to a tanker port at Kitimat, B.C.
It received a federal permit to go ahead in June, subject to 209 conditions, but Enbridge has signalled it does not intend to make a final decision to break ground any time soon and is attempting to gain support from B.C. First Nations along its route from Alberta to the West Coast.
Prentice spent years in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet, including time in the posts of Indian Affairs, Environment and Industry.
He was hired by Enbridge after leaving federal politics to try to bring First Nations on board with the proposed pipeline.
Prentice said he and B.C. Premier Christy Clark are on the same page on issues such as trade, Asia Pacific markets and Northern Gateway.
“The point we both have agreed on is when you have Alberta and British Columbia working together, we are an incredible force in the entire Asia Pacific basin. That will include (liquid natural gas) and it will certainly involve oil as well,” he said.
Clark has said that B.C.’s five conditions on the pipeline remain in place, including that her province receive a fair share of economic benefits. On the fair-share issue – the most contentious in Alberta – Prentice would only say “the premier of British Columbia has never at any time suggested that British Columbia should have access to Alberta’s royalties.
“That has never been up for discussion, it certainly is not up for discussion,” he said. “The discussion we’ve had is how we work together to realize the full potential of trading into the Asia Pacific basin. I am fully confident we will have a constructive working relationship and that we’ll be able to deal with the issues British Columbia has raised in the past.”
Prentice has made a concerted effort to reach out to First Nations communities since becoming premier in mid-September.
Prentice noted Friday that there are “unacceptable gaps” in prosperity and employment between aboriginals and non-aboriginals.
Last week, he met with leaders of the Lubicon Lake Cree in northern Alberta to discuss negotiations on a land settlement, workforce training and education. The Lubicon band was missed by federal treaty makers in the early 1900s and the band claims it has never given up rights to any of its northern territory.
On the issues of the Keystone XL pipeline through the U.S. – one of the other major projects Alberta is pushing – Prentice told reporters he is “cautiously optimistic” after the results of the U.S. mid-term elections, which saw the Republicans gain control of the Senate.
“We’re hopeful. We’re respectful of the American political process,” he said. “At some point I fully intend to go to the United States to speak with people individually and probably to speak publicly.”
Prentice said a date for his U.S. visit has not been determined.