Manitoba premier places other priorities ahead of Alberta request to ship oil via Churchill

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said her government has more pressing concerns than agreeing to Alberta’s request to hold a meeting on shipping oil from the port of Churchill.

Stefanson said she’s open to future talks, but inviting new Alberta premier Danielle Smith isn’t a top priority.

“I understand where the premier of Alberta is coming from,” Stefanson said. “She’s facing an election and some tough stuff, some tough political challenges in her own province, and she wants to sort out some of those issues.”

But these are not the priorities of the Manitoba government.

“I will tell you that there are other more urgent things that we have to deal with right now, which is why we are here today to take care of the most vulnerable in our society,” she said, speaking of her government’s pledge on Monday to more than double funding grants for homeless shelters and transitional housing services, among other supports for the less fortunate.

She said affordability issues, improving the health care system and tackling homelessness were among her top priorities.

Stefanson was responding Monday to a request from Smith to meet in Churchill, Man., to explore ways the Prairie provinces could work together to transport oil and agricultural products through northern Manitoba to other world markets. . Smith also asked Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe to attend.

“Our leadership will bring weight and purpose to the Canadian response to Russia’s atrocities and show the rest of the world that there is indeed a business case for exporting low-carbon Canadian energy and food products to the world. ‘Europe,” Smith wrote in a letter she posted on Twitter over the weekend.

The idea of ​​shipping oil through Churchill is not new, but has long been put off. Some residents have expressed concern about the consequences of derailments and oil spills.

Moreover, the cost of upgrading the railway line to facilitate energy exports would be immense.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith wants to “harness the initiative of the provinces” and sees using the port of Churchill to export energy resources as a way to do so. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

In his letter, Smith argued that the economic case for expanding the Port of Churchill is improving. She said investors are looking for responsibly produced energy and don’t want to rely on regimes like Russia after the attack on Ukraine.

Smith became premier of Alberta earlier this month. She campaigned for the leadership of her party in part on a promise to assert Alberta’s independence from the federal government, which she accused of disrespecting the province’s energy resources.

To that end, Smith wrote in her letter to Stefanson and Moe that one of her top priorities as premier is to “harness provincial initiative rather than wait for federal action.” She said Ottawa had been reluctant to find alternative energy sources while Russia and Ukraine were at war.

Stefanson said any discussion about oil shipping must consult with — and benefit — First Nations communities.

“Part of the solution”

Europe could be on the brink of a “very significant energy challenge”, said the Premier of Manitoba.

“I think we can be part of the solution, but let’s have this discussion with the federal government and across the country as well, including with provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan,” Stefanson said.

In August, Stefanson’s government provided $73 million to help the Arctic Gateway Group upgrade, operate and maintain the Hudson’s Bay Railway, Churchill’s only land link to the south.

The railway line, privatized after the federal government sold Canadian National Railways in 1995, runs through remote, swampy terrain and is subject to long service interruptions.

Its former owners stopped running trains to Churchill for around 18 months after the railway line was badly damaged by flooding in 2017. Under former PC Premier Brian Pallister, the province only provided no financial support to repair the railway line.

At the time of the August announcement, Stefanson said the improved transport corridor could help the world find alternatives to reliance on Russian exports.

Smith joins the leader of the federal Conservative Party, Pierre Poilievre, in endorsing the transport of oil by Churchill. Poilievre campaigned on the idea at a rally in Winnipeg earlier this year, before being chosen as party leader.

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