WASHINGTON - Alberta Premier Alison Redford says she's not a proponent of any individual resource project, even as she's working the Washington corridors of power this week in favour of the Keystone XL pipeline.
The Alberta government paid to take out a large ad in the Washington Post newspaper Tuesday that called the proposed $7-billion pipeline from Canada's oil sands to the Gulf Coast "the choice of reason."
Yet Redford maintains it is the industry's job to sell any given project, not hers, calling it "a very clear distinction."
"We do think it's an important project. It is not my job to be the proponent of that project," Redford said late Tuesday after a protest-filled forum at the Brookings Institute, a centrist Washington think-tank.
"There is a private company that has a commercial interest, that is going through a process where they are addressing the issues that need to be addressed by decision-makers in the United States," she said.
Her role, she continued, is to describe Alberta government policy to policy makers in Washington. The current visit, which wraps up Wednesday, was Redford's fourth such trip in the last 18 months since becoming premier.
Separating policy from sales pitch could get confusing.
Gary Doer, the Canadian ambassador in Washington, walked Redford out onto an embassy terrace overlooking the Capitol for a Tuesday morning photo op where he used the panorama to announce that "down the street, 62 senators, in principle, voted for our favourite project, so onward and upward."
Doer was referring to last month's symbolic budget amendment vote, when 62 senators — including 17 Democrats and all 45 Republicans — voted to endorse the Keystone XL pipeline.
That has put wind in the sails of other members of Congress who are attempting to pass the Northern Route Approval Act, which would approve the project while explicitly stating that "no presidential permit shall be required."
U.S. President Barack Obama is to decide later this year on whether to approve the 1,800-kilometre line, which would take oil from Alberta's oilsands through the U.S. to refineries and ports on the Gulf Coast in Texas.
The petroleum industry, labour groups and Redford have said Keystone XL is a vital measure to bolster Canada's economy and ensure a stable source of oil for the United States.
They got a boost recently when the U.S. State Department, in a preliminary report, said rejecting Keystone XL would not reduce greenhouse gas emissions or slow down development in the oilsands.
The fate of the TransCanada (TSX:TRP) line has already been postponed once by Obama amid widespread concerns from environmentalists.
Protesters have demonstrated by the thousands in Washington over not just the potential environmental damage by any leaks from the Keystone line, but also over what the line represents.
They say approving Keystone XL would be a tacit endorsement of the expansion of carbon-intensive operations like the oilsands, causing further damage to the environment through greenhouse gases.
Redford is using her Washington pulpit to tell opponents that stopping XL will not stop oilsands development, while attempting to reassure all that Alberta — and Canada's federal government — are making headway on environmental policy.
"We think it's very important to have a price on carbon; we have a price on carbon," Redford told a question-and-answer forum at the Brookings Institute.
"We're working very closely right now with the federal government on a new set of oil and gas regulations that will deal with this. Part of that dialogue is talking about what our carbon price can do for technological development and economic growth."
Redford's assurances didn't appear to ease the concerns of a group of anti-Keystone protesters who infiltrated her afternoon speech and repeatedly disrupted the proceedings.
The premier shrugged off the disturbance, saying emotions will rise as the decision gets nearer.
"It is interesting because some of the people who made comments today, they're valid comments," said Redford.
"They are important questions to ask and all we're ever looking for is the opportunity to be able to answer those questions because we're pretty proud of our record in Alberta."
Redford's trip wraps up Wednesday after meetings with senators and members of Congress.