FREDERICTON - New Brunswick Premier David Alward heads west on Sunday to promote a proposal for a pipeline he hopes would move western crude and the riches that flow with it eastward to prop up his province's faltering economy.
Alward has three days of meetings scheduled with Alberta Premier Alison Redford and officials in the oil and pipeline industries during which he intends to make a business case for the project.
"We believe that there is one," Alward said Wednesday in Fredericton. "But that's up to the various players — whether that be the Irving family in New Brunswick or the producers and transporters — to ultimately say whether there is a business case to it."
TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP) has proposed converting an existing natural gas pipeline to get oil from Alberta as far as Quebec. But it is Alward's hope that the pipeline would be extended to the Irving oil refinery in Saint John, N.B., the largest in the country.
The idea has gained political traction in recent months, and while speaking Wednesday in Toronto, Redford said New Brunswick could become a key partner to help her province's oil sector.
"It's a very productive conversation," said Redford, who is also having similar talks with Quebec.
Last month, federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver toured the Irving refinery, saying there is a need to build pipelines and diversify the country's energy markets.
But Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada, said while the company has determined that it is technically and economically feasible to convert the existing pipeline to oil, they have not made an application for approval.
He said they would need to have long-term contracts signed with oil producers and refiners before any decision is made to proceed.
"We don't build pipelines and then hope we can fill it," he said Wednesday in an interview from Calgary.
"We need to make sure we have the financial backing that would justify us spending potentially billions of dollars to do this work."
Alward said his government is investing a lot of time and effort to promote the project, but isn't saying if it will invest money to get it moving.
"What we need to be able to do, and how we're bringing value to this, is to demonstrate the assets that New Brunswick has to offer and why we believe it makes good sense," he said.
Howard said the biggest boost the federal and provincial governments could provide is ensuring a fair and transparent regulatory process if they decide to proceed.
In a statement Wednesday, Irving Oil president Mike Ashar said his company welcomes the role Alward has taken to build support for the project.
"This is a project that would be a positive development for refiners in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, as well as oil producers in Western Canada," Ashar said.
In December, members of the New Brunswick legislature unanimously passed a motion in support of the pipeline proposal.