Premier front-runner talks pipelines

By Chris Adams

Alberta’s ruling provincial party is in the midst of a leadership race following Alison Redford’s resignation.

Jim Prentice — former member of parliament for Calgary Centre-North — is in the running to become Alberta’s next leader. And, according to most, he’s the candidate to watch.

Prentice served nearly seven years in the Harper government, 18 months of which were spent as minster of Indian affairs and northern development.

Most recently, Enbridge hired him to convince First Nations groups opposed to their proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to change their opinion. He’ll have an even tougher time as premier now that First Nations groups have solidified their anti-pipeline stance after Harper’s approval of the pipeline proposal on Tuesday.

Over 45 MLAs have endorsed Prentice for PC leadership, though his campaign has seen controversy in recent weeks. Documents released by the NDP claim he spent over $400,000 on flights while sitting in parliament. And most Albertans haven’t forgotten why we’re having this race in the first place.

The Gauntlet met with Prentice to discuss Northern Gateway, his relationship with First Nations, British Columbia’s government and the private sector’s influence on post-secondary education.

The Gauntlet: Will you be able to convince parties like Coastal First Nations to get on board with the Northern Gateway pipeline when they have such strong environmental concerns?

Jim Prentice: Many years ago when I was minister of Indian affairs and northern development, we struck an agreement to create Canada’s first marine conservation national park — essentially an underwater national park. It’s the first place in the world where we’ve protected the environment from the bottom of the continental trench to the top of the coastal mountains. That was an agreement that I spearheaded and negotiated with the Haida. It was something people said couldn’t be done. [Critics said] It was impossible to do. We’d have too much conflict with industrial interests, with federal government and provincial government. We were able to do that in three months.

That speaks to what can be accomplished if you sit down and work respectfully with the First Nations, address their concerns and make sure they are active partners in all this.

UBC’s Fisheries Economic Research Unit says a tanker spill would cost between $2.4–$9.5 billion. Do you think this potential economic loss is worth it?

Clearly no one wants a spill. Since the adoption of new standards after Exxon Valdez, new double-walled tankers have actually had an excellent safety record. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be vigilant. The pilotage requirements — including the involvement of First Nations on the West Coast — should be the toughest in the world. Everyone agrees with that. If there is a spill we need to ensure that there’s proper bonding so the financial resources are in place to do the cleanup quickly. We need to ensure that we have the most up-to-date technology so that we know what we’re cleaning up and that First Nations are part of the first response mechanism.

Clearly, we can’t get into the exporting of any energy products until all that’s in place.

On both fronts — First Nations and the BC government — would you be willing to concede some government revenue to ease negotiations?

I don’t think it’s about sharing government revenues. I think the ownership of the facilities is something that remains to be determined. The equity participation of First Nations is something that remains to be fully determined. The specific role of the government of BC and the government of Canada and Alberta, in terms of how this thing is structured, remains to be resolved.

The imperative for Alberta is to access tide water at the West Coast. The imperative for us as a province is to ensure that we access the Asia-Pacific basin and the emerging markets of Asia.

We can not prosper as a province if we have one customer. That customer is the United States. No one can succeed or sleep well at night if they have one customer. That’s the circumstance we’ve put ourselves in.

Mark my words. If we don’t deal with this issue and achieve West Coast access, we are headed to a very serious situation as early as 2017–2018 — for sure by 2020 — because we are going to be selling Alberta’s oil into a single market that is increasingly congested. You’re going to see repeated circumstances of market failure where we will not be realizing global prices.

Why should students vote for you and what should the relationship between post-secondary education and the provincial government look like?

We need to determine a way to provide funding on an ongoing basis that reflects the need to have clear projections going forward so people can build around it and have long-term visions for these institutions. These are publicly-funded institutions and we need to ensure there is a responsiveness to the market.

I appreciate that people can, and should, come to a place like the University of Calgary and study, whatever their passion is. At the same time, we have to make sure the universities are receiving public money and that graduates suit the needs of the economy. We need to ensure there are incentives built into the funding framework so that universities are responsive to the job market.

And what about the relationship between the private sector and the universities?

I support the infusion of as much private capital into our post-secondary institutions as possible. In today’s world, you need partners. And in today’s world, you need business partners to achieve the kind of excellence that we’ve seen at the University of Calgary.

However, universities fulfil an important role in our societies that goes back 1,000 years in terms of their intellectual independence and their governance independence. Nobody should be telling them what to do. These are issues that are up to the governors of the institutions and they shouldn’t be accepting dollars that have strings attached that call that independence into question.

For the most part, I see philanthropic dollars that want to flow to the universities and colleges.

When you look at what’s been achieved at the U of C, it’s truly remarkable.

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