Couillard says TransCanada should abandon plans for port terminal in beluga area

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard met today to discuss the future of the TransCanada Energy East pipeline project.

Calgary-based company wants to convert natural gas pipeline to oil, expand it further into Quebec, N.B.

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice, left, and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard spoke today about the future of a TransCanada pipeline project. (CBC)

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says TransCanada Corp. should abandon its plan to build a port terminal in an area where belugas have been listed as an endangered species.

A federal government wildlife committee concluded that the beluga's numbers in the Cacouna area in eastern Quebec have dwindled to 1,000 from a high of 10,000.

Couillard says that information will make the project harder for TransCanada to sell at environmental hearings in Quebec and with the National Energy Board.

The Calgary-based company wants a port terminal in Cacouna as part of its 4,600-kilometre pipeline to carry 1.1 million barrels per day of oilsands crude from Alberta to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick.

On Monday, it announced it would halt all work on the terminal in response to concerns the project could hurt the beluga habitat.

Couillard made his comments in Quebec City at a joint news conference with Alberta Premier Jim Prentice, who reiterated the economic importance of the project becoming reality.

The Energy East project would give Western oil producers long coveted access to a deep-water port in the Bay of Fundy.

In a scrum after the meeting, Prentice said the meeting went well.

"I think that we’ve had excellent discussions," he said. "There’s been a long and productive relationship between the province of Quebec and the province of Alberta," Prentice said.

Couillard on climate change

Meanwhile, Couillard told journalists Prentice has agreed to attend a Quebec conference on climate change later this year.

Prentice was grilled by journalists, inquiring if Quebec was putting up too many roadblocks on the creation of the Energy East pipeline project.

In response, he said the two provinces were working together, and that building a pipeline would be good for the future of Quebec.

Prentice said the creation of the pipeline is possible without the marine terminal in Cacouna, Que., which has been put on hold because it may impact the breeding ground of beluga whales. 

"I’m aware of the environmental worries and responsibilities," said Prentice.

"Belugas are important, that’s clear."

With files from CBC News