National energy strategy on agenda at Alberta talks

A national energy strategy is high on the agenda at a meeting of federal and provincial energy ministers in Kananaskis, which runs until Tuesday.
Corporate sponsorship of the energy ministers' conference in Alberta helped pay for a tour of an oilsands operation in Fort McMurray. ((Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press))
A national energy strategy is high on the agenda at a meeting of federal and provincial energy ministers in Kananaskis, which runs until Tuesday

Canada needs to reach more markets with its energy resources, said Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert.

A comprehensive energy strategy would provide a road map for energy priorities, including the development of pipelines and port facilities, which could allow exports to reach more countries than the U.S., he said.

"If we're going to be a global energy superpower then we better find ways to get our product to markets globally. Currently, we only really have one customer and that's south. And you're not going to be a global energy superpower with one customer. So to me, that's a natural starting point," Liepert said.

With a majority Conservative government in Ottawa, Alberta's goal of achieving a national energy strategy is now within reach, Liepert said.

"The impression that I have received is that there is a recognition that we need to move in this direction. So I think it is going to make it much easier to get a consensus," he said.

While Oliver says a shared vision for energy is key to Canada's long-term future as an energy superpower, he said the federal government will respect provincial jurisdiction and seek a collaborative approach.

"We are in favour — strongly in favour — of a collaborative approach between the federal government and the provinces," he said.

National guidelines for energy development and a new commitment to opening up new markets could result in a concerted push to construct the contentious Northern Gateway pipeline.  

The project would carry oilsands crude from Alberta to the west coast where it would then be shipped to growing eastern markets, such as China.

But several First Nations groups are trying to kill the project because they believe it threatens their wildlife habitats.

Federal Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver said his government supports the project. "Gateway in our opinion is in the national interest," he said.

Ministers tour oilsands

The ministers flew to Calgary after touring oilsands sites near Fort McMurray on Monday.

Liepert said it was a good chance for his fellow ministers to learn first-hand about the oilsands, which the federal Conservative government has called a key driver of the national economy.

But environmental groups have questioned the legitimacy of the talks.

Gillian Mceachern, a spokeswoman with Environmental Defence said it's problematic that several oil companies helped to sponsor  the Kananaskis gathering.

"That caused quite a bit of concern for us. It does create the perception that they might be buying their way into agreement with what they want," she said.

A national energy strategy should focus on transitioning away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy, and environmental groups should be at the negotiating table, she said.