LUNENBURG, N.S. – British Columbia Premier Christy Clark used a meeting of the premiers Wednesday to push for talks with Alberta and Ottawa to resolve a dispute over her demand for a greater share of the economic benefits from the Northern Gateway pipeline.
Clark said there is considerable environmental risk for her province if the $5.5-billion project is built, and B.C. needs to be properly compensated with a greater slice of the economic benefits from the project.
“My basic request is for Alberta and Canada to come to the table and sit down with British Columbia and work to figure out how we can resolve this,” Clark said after a meeting with other premiers, and territorial and aboriginal leaders in Lunenburg, N.S.
“If that’s going to cause such a big problem that there are trade barriers, there is a very easy way to solve that — no pipeline.”
Her comments have put her at loggerheads with Alberta Premier Alison Redford, who has flatly dismissed Clark’s position as one that would “fundamentally change Confederation” because it would mean new negotiations for projects throughout the country.
Clark has called for an unspecified “fair share” of the revenues, but declined to say precisely what amount of money she was seeking from the project.
“I don’t have a number for you today and I’m not going to negotiate that in public,” she said.
Redford said Wednesday she was open to Clark’s overtures to discuss the matter, but she didn’t believe the dispute would be resolved this week.
“There will be lots of time for opportunity and discussion,” Redford said as she walked along Lunenburg’s picturesque waterfront before touring the harbour on a tall ship.
“It would be wrong for anyone to characterize that we’re not going to talk, but at this point in time, this isn’t the week for it.”
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird weighed in on the dispute, questioning Clark’s stance and reiterating the federal government’s support for the project.
“We can’t have a Canada where we try to toll-gate different goods and services in different parts of the country,” Baird told CBC’s Power and Politics.
“Alberta has a great resource, it’s a great resource for Canada, and they obviously have to get that resource to market.”
According to research in an application filed by Enbridge, 8.2 per cent of the Northern Gateway’s projected $81 billion tax revenue would flow to B.C. over a 30-year period. That equates to $6.7 billion for B.C., while Ottawa is expected to receive $36 billion and Alberta would earn $32 billion.
Saskatchewan is expected to top the remainder of the provinces in terms of tax benefit, receiving about $4 billion.
Clark said she hadn’t spoken to Redford on Wednesday, but she expected to over the next couple of days as the Council of the Federation meets in Halifax.
The pair appeared to keep their distance at the meeting as they mixed with the public along Lunenburg’s historic waterfront and then boarded the Amistad, sitting away from each other as they chatted with other leaders.
Other premiers said they didn’t expect the squabble would overshadow other items on the agenda — namely, health care and economic development — but conceded that drafting a national energy strategy could be a tough prospect.
Redford has been championing her vision for a pan-Canadian strategy, but has been light on details on how to forge a common, sustainable approach for an array of different energy sources and competing interests.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said it would be unrealistic to think the premiers could quickly craft an energy policy that would address decades-old problems and regional differences. Instead, premiers should work on raising Canada’s profile as an energy player, he said.
“Let’s start proactively branding the energy that we have to offer the world, committing to do it in a sustainable way, but promoting the fact that we have it,” he said.
“So I think the energy strategy — notwithstanding disagreements in any region of the country — if it does that would be worthwhile.”
Premier Robert Ghiz of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick Premier David Alward said they would push for a west-to-east pipeline that could carry unrefined bitumen to refineries in eastern Canada.
“New Brunswick is very open to seeing a pipeline come from Alberta to Saint John and the refinery there,” Alward said, though he refused to offer his take on the tussle between Alberta and B.C.
“We’re open for business and we’re looking forward, if there is a business case, to seeing that come here.”
Quebec Premier Jean Charest also steered clear from the war of words.
“I’ll let Premiers Clark and Redford speak to that,” Charest said.
He said he was interested in talks to establish a national energy policy — but not without conditions.
“First, that there be a respect of provincial jurisdictions,” he said. “And the second one is that if the federal government is going to be part of this, it should be on invitation-only … not because they impose their presence.”
Charest also confirmed that the premiers were planning a trip to China in September for a trade mission, though he said his province would not participate because it has done similar trips recently.
Enbridge’s (TSX:ENB) proposed 1,177-kilometre twin line would carry heavy oil from Alberta across a vast swath of pristine B.C. wilderness and First Nations territory to a port at Kitimat, B.C., for shipment to Asia.
Last week, the company announced it will shore up another $500 million in safety improvements.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version reported that the B.C. government commissioned a report on Northern Gateway’s projected tax revenue. In fact, Enbridge filed the report.