EDMONTON – The energy industry will be critical to Alberta’s economy for many years to come, but it must “clean up its environmental act,” the province’s premier told business leaders Tuesday night.
In her keynote address to the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, Premier Rachel Notley acknowledged the fiscal challenges facing the province while sounding a note of optimism about its future.
She said her NDP government will work to promote a healthy business climate, noting she will be travelling to New York next week to sell the province as a good bet for investors.
“Supporting oilsands projects, establishing new opportunities in our energy economy and pioneering advanced technologies, all of this requires investment on a significant scale,” she said, promising to boost exports by seeking out new relationships and enhancing old ones.
But while signalling the need to diversify the economy, she said there’s little doubt its centrepiece will continue to be the oil and gas industry.
“Albertans feel strongly, as do many business leaders across the province, including the energy industry, that it is long past due for Alberta to clean up its environmental act,” said Notley. “The poor quality of air in this province, as an example, is a direct threat to the health of our children and our seniors, and we need to do something about that.
“If we don’t get our act together on this issue, a solution is going to be imposed upon us, sooner or later, by others — by the federal government, and by the markets who will increasingly insist that energy products that they buy be mined and processed responsibly.”
Speaking to reporters after the event, Notley admitted she had not expected Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton to take the stance she did Tuesday against the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Alberta oil to Gulf Coast refineries in the U.S.
Clinton told a town-hall meeting in Iowa that she opposes the project because it’s not in the best interest of “what we need to do to combat climate change.”
Notley said Clinton’s stance “doesn’t have a significant impact” for her government.
“Their politics are their politics,” Notley said. “I continue to be very focused on trying to find a way to get a pipeline to tidewater, because I understand that’s important for our energy market.”
Notley had previously said she wouldn’t advocate for either the Keystone XL pipeline or Enbridge’s contentious Northern Gateway proposal across British Columbia, but has given qualified support to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion to the Vancouver area and TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline to New Brunswick.
“Our concern about Keystone is what that particular pipeline … meant for our capacity and the economic viability of more upgrading in Alberta. I was never really convinced that the people in Washington were spending a lot of time listening to what Alberta had to say. It was a question of whether we were using our resources wisely.”