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Prime minister, premier talk about EI and pipelines during Saskatchewan visit

SASKATOON – The prime minister pushed back Wednesday at federal Conservatives critical of his position on pipelines, as he visited Saskatchewan where the premier is pressing for action.

Low energy prices are battering the province’s economy and have Premier Brad Wall’s government in the red, but Justin Trudeau opted to repeat his often-used line that the Conservatives had years to build a pipeline while in government and couldn’t get it done.

“I have been crystal clear for years now on pipelines,” Trudeau while visiting a First Nations high school in Saskatoon.

“One of the fundamental responsibilities of any Canadian prime minister — and this goes back centuries, from grain on railroads to fish and fur — is to get Canadian resources to international markets.

“But what the Conservatives still refuse to understand is that in order to get our resources to market in the 21st century, we have to be responsible around the environment. We have to respect concerns that communities have and we have to build partnerships with indigenous peoples.”

Trudeau said the best way to get a pipeline built is to co-operate with communities and First Nations along the route and to listen to their concerns.

Wall said he knows the federal government has its own review process, but the premier said he believes Trudeau “is uniquely positioned to be a champion” for pipelines in Canada.

The premier said he was encouraged by the chat with Trudeau.

“I don’t think I got platitudes today. I think there was sincerity in the prime minister’s desire to get some pipelines approved to move product to tidewater,” said Wall.

“I also said I’d continue to speak out for pipelines and on the face of these pipelines, especially Energy East, it makes eminent good sense for Canada to approve this, to give us a chance to displace the need to import foreign oil, to give us a chance to get a better value for our product, to see the jobs created by the pipeline, to make sure there’s less oil on rail — which is not as safe as oil in a pipeline — and he indicated that he fully expected people to make that case and I’ll be doing that.”

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose was also in Saskatchewan this week and accused Trudeau of waffling on support for pipelines since last year’s federal election. She said the pipeline approval process is vague and creates too much uncertainty in the oil industry, which translates into more job losses.

The Council of Canadians and other groups said in an open letter Wednesday to Trudeau that any pipeline review must include true consultations with aboriginal communities.

But the letter, while acknowledging that the economies and workforces of Alberta and Canada have been hit hard by a downturn in the energy sector, also cautioned Trudeau not to cave to pressure to build new pipelines.

“Adding new pipelines will not solve economic woes caused by instability in world oil markets and a world that is rapidly — and necessarily — transitioning away from fossil fuels in order to safeguard our climate for future generations.”

The letter, which was also signed by Greenpeace Canada, argued that pipeline projects “present significant risks not only to our shared climate, but to critical waterways along their paths.”

Wall also pushed for expanded employment insurance benefits.

The premier has praised extensions to EI coverage in 12 areas hit hard by the resource downturn, including northern Saskatchewan. But he’s also said Ottawa made a mistake when it didn’t include workers in southern Saskatchewan’s oil-producing regions.

Wall said he will take Trudeau “at his word” that the situation is being monitored and there might be a chance of extending the benefits.

Wall also said Trudeau assured him the federal government is committed to reducing the gap between what the province provides in education funding off-reserve and what Ottawa pays for on-reserve.

Trudeau did not take questions after the private chat with Wall, but called it “a wonderfully positive meeting.”