Rachel Notley follows in Alison Redford's footsteps with Quebec talks

Alberta premier Rachel Notley hopes to convince her Quebec counterpart to come around and endorse a new pipeline across the country, just like her predecessor was able to do three years ago.

Both Alberta premiers have tried to convince Quebec about pipeline projects

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley met with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard in 2015 before both headed for the Council of the Federation meeting in St. John's. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Alberta premier Rachel Notley seems confident that she will be able to convince her Quebec counterpart to endorse a new pipeline across the country, just as her predecessor Alison Redford was able to do three years ago.

Notley held a special meeting with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard in advance of a meeting of all the premiers in Newfoundland on Wednesday. The conversation focused on TransCanada's proposed Energy East pipeline, which Couillard has repeatedly opposed.

After the two premiers met face to face, Couillard suggested he may be coming around on the project, describing the talks as positive and pleasant.

"I am convinced that we have found a new ally in Ms. Notley," said Couillard in a statement.

Notley echoed those sentiments.

"He understands energy continues to be a key driver of economic prosperity not just in Alberta but across Canada and he acknowledged pipelines are ultimately the best way to move that product," Notley said on a conference call with reporters.

Couillard is concerned about climate change, as well as how much economic benefit his province would receive from the pipeline. Notley didn't dispute those points.

"I mean essentially, what they need to see is some meaningful action with respect to environmental protection and climate change and it needs to make economic sense for Quebec. Those are not unreasonable standards. They're the same standards we would look for in Alberta," she said.

Echoes of a previous meeting

The moment is strikingly similar to when former premiers Alison Redford and Pauline Marois met three years ago. Marois opposed Enbridge's Line 9 reversal projec,t and Redford requested a special meeting ahead of a premiers conference to talk things over. Marois was seen as a combative counterpart because of her environmental and economic concerns with the pipeline.

However, after their chat, the pair emerged laughing and smiling. They struck a partnership to work together on energy projects. 

"I think it's important to have a working group on the issues of this, the economic issues on the energy," said Marois, who described the talks as a win-win.

Since then, the National Energy Board has approved Enbridge's project.

Both meetings — this week and back in 2012 — ended with rosy, warm feelings and an invitation for the Quebec premier to travel west and visit Alberta.

Opposition to Energy East

The big difference at this week's meeting is the pipeline in question. Energy East still faces considerable opposition.

In Manitoba, opposition groups include the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition, the Council of Canadians, Idle No More, Kairos, the University of Winnipeg Students Association and the Wilderness Committee. The Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition is also not convinced of the project's impact or safety.

Several groups in New Brunswick also oppose the project. In total, the National Energy Board has received 1,805 applications to participate in the hearing for Energy East.

TransCanada already had to abandon plans for a terminal in Cacouna, Que., due to concerns about beluga whales.

If Notley can convince Quebec to support the proposed pipeline, she'll score a victory. But even that victory would be relatively small, and Energy East still faces many other battles if its to be built, especially before the company's timeline of 2020.


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