Harper says Keystone will spur jobs despite Obama claims

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters in Quebec City Friday that projects such as a proposed pipeline to carry Alberta oil east to New Brunswick help enhance Canada's energy security.

Prime minister also endorses west-east pipeline as vital for energy security

Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded Friday to U.S. President Barack Obama's dim view about whether the Keystone XL pipeline would spur significant job growth, holding firm to his belief that the project will boost employment "on both sides of the border" and bolster the continent's long-term security.

"The perspective of this government is very clear, it is very well-known by everyone in Washington, I think. And that is — first of all, our number 1 priority in Canada is the creation of jobs — this is a project that will create jobs on both sides of the border, and it is in our judgment an important project, not just for the economy, for job creation, but for the long-term energy security of North America," Harper said.

Obama has downplayed the impact the pipeline would have on job creation, describing it as a potential "blip" for the overall economy.

He said this week that he expected Keystone would create 2,000 construction jobs, and as few as 50 permanent jobs once the pipeline is completed. The president has yet to approve the project, over which he has the final say.

At a media briefing in Quebec City on Friday, Harper was pressed about what his government would do to counter Obama's comments about TransCanada's proposed pipeline through the United States.

Harper maintained that the pipeline would be a major economic driver, but he did not offer a job number on Friday, nor did he refer to a U.S. State Department report that says the Keystone pipeline will create as many as 40,000 jobs.

PM: West-east pipeline will enhance energy security

During the press conference, the prime minister told reporters projects such as a proposed pipeline to carry Alberta oil east to New Brunswick help enhance Canada's energy security.

TransCanada announced Thursday it was proceeding with the Energy East project, which would convert a natural gas pipeline to carry diluted oilsands crude through Quebec to Saint John, N.B., to be refined for domestic use and export.

Asked about possible safety concerns in Quebec, where a runaway train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded killing 47 people last month, Harper said the TransCanada project would get a rigorous "independent analysis." 

"I think the reality is for anyone who looks at the business is that the absolute, safest way to transport energy products is though pipelines. That's the safest way to go," Harper said.

Harper also noted that Canada has massive energy resources, and called the Energy East project a "Pan-Canadian" strategy.

"It's important that Canadians all across the country benefit and important that we enhance our own energy security," he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, opens a gate with Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume as they announce the year-round opening of Gilmour Hill in Quebec City Thursday. (Clement Allard/Canadian Press)

Eastern refineries rely on expensive crude imported from overseas from suppliers in countries that are not necessarily Canada's allies.

Harper also told the press conference that Ottawa will give $8.2 million for a project to open Gilmour Hill, a historic road leading up to the Plains of Abraham, to vehicle traffic year-round.

The Plains of Abraham, where French and English forces met in a definitive battle in 1759, is a major tourist attraction and a park in the centre of the city. Gilmour Hill is an important route for cars but is currently closed in the winter. With Friday's announcement, it will open 12 months a year starting in 2014.

With Harper for the announcement were Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel and Régis Labeaume, mayor of Quebec City.

The prime minister is also scheduled to deliver a speech in Sherbrooke, Que., later this evening.