PM hasn't changed position on Energy East pipeline after visiting Alberta

CALGARY -- Meetings with Alberta's premier, oil industry leaders and workers haven't changed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's position on a pipeline to the East Coast.

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"I am not going to prejudge or shortcut the (National Energy Board) process as it goes forward," he said Thursday after meeting with oil and natural gas producers and their suppliers.

"It's important we have confidence in our regulators," he said. "We are going to allow them to do their job without political interference."

In his first official visit to Alberta as prime minister, the oil sector was looking for strong signals that Trudeau is serious about helping deliver its commodity to coasts where it can be shipped to foreign markets.

A key plank in that plan is Energy East, a controversial pipeline that has drawn the ire of many along its route through Central Canada to the Atlantic coast.

Trudeau has faced pressure from pipeline proponents and some politicians, including Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, to advocate for the project rather than play peacemaker between opposing sides.

But Trudeau said one of the challenges his Liberal government faces is that "my predecessors have politicized that process."

"For 10 years, they had a government that did everything it could to try get those pipelines built, including marginalizing community voices, ignoring First Nations concerns and completely forgetting about environmental responsibilities," Trudeau said.

"And that approach -- for 10 years -- failed Alberta, failed Albertans, wasn't able to get the kinds of projects that were needed, built. We have a different approach that says ... instead of excluding people from the conversation, bring them in."

Trudeau, federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Premier Rachel Notley took part in two roundtables Thursday morning. The first was with senior executives from Shell, Suncor Energy (TSX:SU), Husky Energy (TSX:HSE), Cenovus Energy (TSX:CVE), Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ), Imperial Oil (TSX:IMO) and Encana (TSX:ECA).

Suncor Energy CEO Steve Williams said the meeting was encouraging, but there were no assurances on pipelines.

"We clarified some of the challenges in front of us with the price cycle, with market access, and we talked about some potential solutions," Williams said.

"What we got today was an understanding of the challenges we face and agreement that we're all going to do what's in the best interests of Alberta and Canada, which is to start to work towards market access for our products."

Trudeau said industry leaders told him at the meeting that their main concern is employing as many people as possible through the downtown.

As he did in Edmonton on Wednesday, the prime minister continued to signal that changes are coming to make employment insurance easier to get for laid-off Albertans.

"We are working very hard, the minister of Employment is looking into it," he said.

"As you know this was a commitment we made through the election campaign to strengthen EI to make it more responsive to people who actually need ... and now Alberta is facing some real challenges in needing it and we're going to make sure that it's there for them."


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