Canada-U.S. ties would suffer from a Keystone rejection: Redford

OTTAWA – A U.S. rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal would have far-reaching implications for the Canada-U.S. relationship, Alberta Premier Alison Redford warns.

In an interview with The Canadian Press on Monday, Redford said Canada and the United States have a long history of economic integration that would be thrown into question by a ‘No’ to the pipeline.

“This is fundamental and I don’t think this is as simple as yes or no on a project,” she said during a three-day trip to the capital to promote her energy strategy. “I do think there is an impact that this has on the longer term relationship.

“I do think this could fundamentally change the relationship.”

TransCanada Corp. needs a stamp of approval from President Barack Obama in order to build its $7-billion bitumen pipeline from Alberta through six U.S. states to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

But the re-elected Obama administration has put a renewed emphasis on environmental protection and finding ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, fuelling speculation that it may reject the pipeline proposal or demand that Canada crack down on emissions in return for an approval.

A U.S. refusal would throw into question decades of Canada-U.S. economic co-operation and integration, Redford warned.

“I think it would show that we’re not as trusted as partners as we used to think that we were and that would be disappointing,” the premier said.

She argued that the original free trade agreement between Canada and the United States included formal commitments to maintain the energy relationship, with Canada promising to remain a supplier and the United States committing to remaining a customer.

“We need to make sure that those relationships continue. They matter to the continent. And we’re a very blessed continent. We have resources, we have people, we have security. And it’s important for us to remember it’s a result of an incredibly successful partnership over the last decades, hundreds of years.”

But Redford said that in the end, she believes the Obama administration will approve Keystone and both countries will soon look back on the contentious debate as a time for honest discussion about how best to expand the North American economy.

Just to make sure, though, numerous federal and provincial leaders have recently gone to Washington to lobby for the pipeline. Alberta also took out a large ad in the New York Times on the weekend to tout the economic benefits of the project.

And now, Redford is attacking federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair for his recent visit to the U.S. capital, during which he criticized the Conservative environmental record and expressed a preference for building pipelines in Canada first.

Redford said Mulcair’s statements were “ridiculous” and perpetuated false information about a project that is crucial to federal finances and the entire Canadian economy.

But at the same time, Redford and her Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Cal Dallas both stressed that Alberta is ready to stiffen its environmental standards.

“We’re ready to move the bar again,” Dallas said. “There’s been some very clear signalling by the Obama administration that the United States is prepared to do that.

“And I think we’ve clearly indicated that we concur the time is right for that. We’re ready to refresh, to renew our commitments around those greenhouse gas targets.”

Last month, Alberta ministers said they were poised to raise the price on carbon.

Plus, the provincial government is trying to reorient its investment strategy to emphasize renewable energy and sustainable development, not just oil and gas, Redford said.

In the wake of the Obama comments, federal Conservatives have also recently been eager to brandish their environmental regulations — a change in tone from the antagonism toward some environmentalists that characterized their approach of the past.

Redford gently chastised that approach on Monday, suggesting it has not helped Alberta make the case to pipe bitumen out of the province, whether it be through the Keystone pipeline or the proposed Northern Gateway line to the British Columbia coast.

“I think that it’s not appropriate to target a particular group of advocates on this issue, but to say that it’s a more complicated conversation and to be able to talk about what the impact is,” she said. “It’s always better to have a positive approach.”

Still, Redford said her government and the federal government are largely on the same page when it comes to developing the Alberta economy. In this week’s federal budget, she wants to see new infrastructure arrangements and a modernization of labour and training programs — both of which are top federal priorities as well.

Specifically, she wants to see the federal government take further forays into public-private partnerships to finance the building of infrastructure. She also wants to work with Ottawa to better target labour training initiatives directly at the needs of employers.

In return, Alberta is ready to prove how effective its training programs can be, she said — signalling her readiness to comply with new accountability and measurement requirements that are expected to be in the skills development package that will be the centrepiece of the federal budget.