As Canada moves towards a lower-carbon economy, it will be vital to strike a balance between environmental stewardship and making money, the federal natural resources minister told a Calgary business audience.

Jim Carr, who is in Alberta this week talking to politicians and entrepreneurs about the forces shaping Canada's energy future, made the comments to the Calgary Chamber, where he took part in a panel discussion with energy industry leaders.  

"If we don't create wealth, there's no wealth to distribute," he said.

Carr said Canadians understand that the global energy industry is headed for big changes, and he said Alberta is poised to be at the forefront.

"We are on the cusp of a major transition," he said. 

Innovation will be the key if Canada is to emerge in the years to come as a leader in the global energy marketplace, he added. 

"It was innovation that led to the development of the oilsands in the first place, and it will be innovation that will get us to a place where those processes emit fewer greenhouse gas emissions while we invest in renewable sources of energy," Carr told the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday morning.

"It's not going to happen tomorrow, there will be a transition internationally and Canada is a part of that — where there is less reliance on fossil fuels and more reliance on cleaner, more sustainable sources of energy."

He's an optimist

With low oil prices and high unemployment hammering Alberta's economy, Carr said now is the time for the federal Liberals to invest in innovation.

"We want to create jobs … You do that by giving the private sector financial incentives to partner with them [entrepreneurs] on research and development that will lead to other ways of developing our natural resources."  

Carr realizes it may be difficult for Albertans to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but has "faith" that things will turn around.

"I'm an optimist," said Carr.

"We will come through this very low period of commodity prices. And Alberta, and other producing provinces, will help lead the way."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener