Manitoba premier puts other priorities ahead of Alberta’s request to send oil through Churchill | So Good News
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson says her government has more pressing concerns than entertaining Alberta’s request for a meeting on shipping oil from the Port of Churchill.
Stefanson said she is open to future discussions, but the invitation of new Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is not a top priority.
“I understand where the premier in Alberta is” coming from, Stefanson said. “She’s facing an election and some tough things, tough challenges politically in her own province, and she wants to get some of those issues out of the way.”
But those are not the Manitoba government’s priorities.
“I will tell you, there are other, more pressing things for us to deal with right now, and that is why we are here today to deal with the most vulnerable in our society,” she said, talking about the government’s promise Monday to more than double funding grants to homeless shelters and transitional housing, including support for the less fortunate.
She said affordability issues, improving health care and addressing homelessness are some of her top priorities.
This week I sent a letter to Saskatchewans @PremierScottMoe & Manitoba’s Premier @HStefansonMB which highlights our shared interests as prairie provinces, including the creation of new economic corridors.#cdnpoli pic.twitter. com/Qnb6O1lmiC
Stefanson responded 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 add weight and meaning to the Canadian response to Russia’s atrocities and will show the rest of the world that there really is a business case for exporting low-carbon Canadian energy and food products to Europe,” Smith wrote in a letter. she posted on Twitter over the weekend.
The idea of sending oil through Churchill is not new, but has long faced backlash. Some residents have worried about the consequences of derailments and oil spills.
Penny Rawlings, a small business owner in Churchill, said in a recent interview that the port would benefit from more business, but “it’s a balance between economics and protecting the environment.”
She mentioned new technology that stores oil in capsules as a possible solution since it is easier to transport and can float on water.
In his letter to the Prairie premiers, Smith argued that the economic case for expanding Churchill Harbor is improving. She said investors are looking for responsibly produced energy and do not want to rely on regimes like Russia after the attack on Ukraine.
Smith became Alberta’s premier earlier this month. She campaigned for the party’s leadership in part on a promise to assert Alberta’s independence over the federal government, which she has accused of disrespecting the province’s energy resources.
To that end, Smith wrote in her letter to Stefanson and Moe that one of her first priorities as premier is to “seize the initiative of the provinces rather than wait for federal action.” She claimed that Ottawa has proven unwilling to find alternative energy sources while Russia and Ukraine are at war.
Stefanson said any discussions around the shipping of oil must consult with – and benefit – First Nations communities.
“Part of the Solution”
Europe may be on the brink of a “very significant energy challenge,” Manitoba’s premier acknowledged.
“I think we can be part of the solution, but let’s have that discussion with the federal government and across the country as well, including with provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan as well,” Stefanson said.
In response, Smith’s press secretary, Rebecca Polak, said Alberta’s premier looks forward to that conversation.
“In previous discussions with Premier Stefanson, she indicated a strong interest in exploring expanded market access opportunities at the port. Alberta is ready to have those discussions with the Premier when she is ready to do so.”
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe told reporters Monday he supports any move to expand services in Churchill.
In August, Stefanson’s government kicked in $73 million to help the Arctic Gateway Group upgrade, operate and maintain the Hudson Bay Railway, Churchill’s only land link to the south.
The rail line, privatized after the federal government sold Canadian National Railway in 1995, runs through remote, marshy terrain and has been subject to prolonged service disruptions.
The former owners stopped running trains to Churchill for about 18 months after the rail line was badly damaged by flooding in 2017. Under former PC Premier Brian Pallister, the province did not provide any financial support to repair the rail line.
At the time of the announcement in August, Stefanson said the upgraded transport corridor could help the world find alternatives to dependence on Russian exports.
Smith joins the leader of the federal Conservative Party Pierre Poilievre in supporting the shipping of oil through Churchill. Poilievre campaigned for the idea at a Winnipeg rally earlier this year, before he was elected party leader.