OTTAWA – Jim Carr, the Liberal government’s point man on energy resources, says he shares a “common objective” with those who want to see the Energy East pipeline completed between Alberta and New Brunswick.
The natural resources minister faced a barrage of questions in the Senate on Wednesday about TransCanada’s controversial, $15.7-billion proposed oil pipeline.
Former Liberal senators were among those pushing Carr to approve the project, with several making the case that an energy-rich country like Canada should not be importing oil.
Sen. James Cowan, the former Liberal leader in the Senate, noted that Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion recently took questions in the Senate where he was harshly critical of the human rights record of Saudi Arabia.
“If your government so deplores the human rights record of Saudi Arabia, from whom we import so much oil, why not move more quickly on the evaluation of the Energy East pipeline?” asked Cowan.
Carr responded that major resource projects require the confidence of Canadians.
“I think that’s one of the reasons we have not been able to get major approvals and major construction of pipelines to tidewater, because it hasn’t carried that public confidence that we seek to obtain,” said the minister.
“That’s our goal. That’s the process that we’re implementing now. So I think we have a common objective.”
Sen. Percy Mockler, a former New Brunswick solicitor general appointed by Stephen Harper, demanded to know whether the government will “green light” Energy East.
“I think many New Brunswickers know that major projects such as this one will have to go through a regulatory process that carries the confidence of the Canadian people in order for it to become a reality and that we have introduced a series of measures that we are optimistic will get us to that point,” Carr replied.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made combating climate change a central pillar of his new government. Many environmental groups say no new oil pipelines can be approved if the Liberals are serious about their environmental goals, particularly meeting the ambitious global targets Canada helped champion in December at the Paris climate conference.
But the government continues to send mixed messages, maintaining that expanded international market access for Canadian oil and gas is not at odds with the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Last week in Vancouver, Trudeau and 13 provincial and territorial leaders signed a climate declaration that included a little-noticed provision on natural resource markets.
The Vancouver communique stated that the first ministers “agreed on the importance and urgency of moving Canada’s resources to market in responsible, timely, predictable and sustainable ways that Canadians trust ….”
The more detailed, eight-page Vancouver Declaration recognized “the economic importance of Canada’s energy and resource sectors and their sustainable development as Canada transitions to a low-carbon economy.” It also specifically commits to “delivering energy to people and global markets.”
The clause was raised in the Senate, where Carr called it an important element in the Vancouver declaration, “because it indicates there’s urgency and indicates there’s a common objective to get resources to market expeditiously and sustainably.”
— Follow @BCheadle on Twitter