Premiers voice support for 'integrated energy economy'

Provincial and territorial leaders spoke enthusiastically of their desire to collaborate on energy issues after emerging from their two-day economic talks in Halifax.

Despite PM's absence, leaders call for collaboration on trade, training, infrastructure

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney and Quebec Premier Pauline Marois speak Friday morning before the premiers' economic summit in Halifax. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Provincial and territorial leaders spoke enthusiastically of their desire to collaborate on energy issues after emerging from their two-day economic talks in Halifax.

They also continued to express concerns Friday about the health of the Canadian economy.

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, the current chair of the Council of the Federation, described the premiers' efforts to work with the federal government "to help sustain progress in economic development and ensure that we make the most of the resources, out of the energy, out of the shared commitment that we all have to stronger jurisdictions."

Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney and Tyler Cowen, an economics professor from George Mason University, near Washington, D.C., briefed the group earlier in the day.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was invited to join the premiers at their meeting, but declined to attend. Despite his absence, Dexter said he hoped the premiers' work set some parameters and priorities for collaboration.

"We probably could go a little bit further if we had [the federal government at the table], but we can't wait. We've got to get on with it," said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Alberta-Quebec 'working group' on energy pipeline

At the premiers' summer meeting, Alberta Premier Alison Redford tried but failed to build a consensus on the need for a national energy strategy.

Alberta and Quebec met separately Thursday night, before the formal Council of the Federation dinner, and announced they will set up their own working group to study closer energy ties between the two provinces.

Last week, Quebec's environment minister had said the province wanted to do its own review for a proposed east-west pipeline to carry Alberta's oil to an eastern Canadian refinery.

On Friday, Marois emphasized that it's a just a working group for now: Quebec hasn't agreed to anything specific with respect to an east-west pipeline.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford, left, and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty wage a friendly bet on Sunday's Grey Cup game at the end of the premiers' economic summit in Halifax on Friday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Redford said she welcomed the opportunity to talk about Alberta's experiences on energy development, and said that her discussions with Quebec were not exclusive: she'd also been in discussions with New Brunswick Premier David Alward over the last three or four months.

"We're all physically connected," she said. "We are pleased by the fact that so many provinces are interested in talking about what the challenges and opportunities are.

"We need to have an integrated energy economy that allows all of Canada to benefit," Redford said.

Speaking after a speech in Montreal, federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver says he's pleased Marois is talking with Redford and other provincial and territorial leaders.

Oliver says the proposal to reverse the flow of an Enbridge pipeline would bring jobs to Quebec and could translate into savings at the pumps for consumers.

Other premiers warm to pipeline

Other premiers have mused about the benefits of moving Alberta's oil east instead of shipping it along proposed pipelines south to refineries in the United States or further west to a terminal on the British Columbia coast.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said Friday the idea is a good one "both from a private investment point of view in the east but also to provide further market opportunities for Canadian producers in the west.

"I think it’s a good story for all of us if we do it properly," he said.

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter says shipping Alberta oil to Eastern Canada could boost Atlantic Canada's energy infrastructure.

He said an obvious destination for any pipeline would be the refinery in Saint John, N.B., but he added the entire region would benefit economically.

"When you see projects like this coming into the region it is good for the region. And whatever is good for Saint John or Moncton is good for Halifax and is good for Nova Scotia," he said.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark turns the tables on the media covering her arrival at the premiers' economic talks in Halifax Friday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Tensions remain between Alberta Premier Alison Redford and B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who's laid out five conditions for her province's support of the planned Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta's oilsands to a new terminal at Kitimat, B.C.

Redford remains cool to B.C.'s most contentious demand: a greater share of the revenues.

"We stand by the five conditions and that’s not changing," Clark told reporters Friday morning

"We need to come together around energy," Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale said later at the closing news conference, gesturing towards her colleagues. "We need to have the positive discussions but we need to have the challenging ones as well, and we have to find a resolution.

"That doesn't mean that it's always easy, or that there's a straightforward path," she added, speaking about her own positive experiences working with Nova Scotia and the federal government on energy issues.

"But as responsible premiers and good stewards, it's incumbent on us to have those conversations and any kind of a dialogue around these issues is important I believe."

Focus on trade, skills training, infrastructure

While the premiers' final news conference was dominated by talk of energy proposals, the final news release focused on the premiers' efforts on trade, immigration, education and training and infrastructure.

The Council of the Federation had its own trade mission to China earlier this year.

The release called the participation of provinces and territories in the ongoing Canada-European Union trade talks "a new positive standard," saying they "look forward to being actively involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and others."

The premiers' economic summit in Halifax was the first for new Quebec Premier Pauline Marois (right) and the last for outgoing Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty (left.) (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The leaders also called on the federal government to renew its funding for federal-provincial labour market agreements on workforce training, which are set to expire in 2014.

Premiers also called for new federal investments in infrastructure programs once the current funding regime expires in 2014, echoing a call from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for new spending in this area.  

They're asking for a new "base-plus per capita" formula that would set aside one pot of money for transit and cutting commute times, one for water and another for core infrastructure. The per capita funding would end the practice of applying for money to pay for specific projects and allow for more strategic funding.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall did not attend the meeting in person, but did participate by telephone conference call. He told reporters he was saving money by not incurring travel costs.

Dexter welcomed Marois, who was attending her first premiers' meeting, to their circle. He also bid farewell to Ontario McGuinty, who announced his resignation earlier this fall, and thanked him for being "a source of consensus building and great wisdom" over his years in office.

"We are now plotting over time to turn Madame Marois into a strong federalist," McGuinty joked. "She does not know this yet. That's fine."

With files from The Canadian Press and Susan Lunn