The federal government deemed it a "strategic imperative" for increased Canadian oil exports to Asia in its final argument into the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
Speaking at National Energy Board (NEB) hearings in Terrace on Wednesday, federal government lawyer Jim Shaw said the Canadian economy is losing out due to the discounted price oilsands products are getting in the American market. He also cited the looming shortage of pipeline capacity and growing U.S. competition as reasons why a new pipeline is needed to connect Alberta's oilsands with a west coast export terminal. Northern Gateway is proposing to build its terminal in Kitimat.
"Canada supports the diversification of markets to create jobs and economic growth for Canadians," Shaw told the three-member Joint Review Panel.
During a half-hour statement, Shaw said the government believes decades of experience shows that pipelines are a safe and environmentally sound way to transport oilsands products and that new funding will give the NEB more capacity to inspect pipelines.
The province of B.C. has demanded a world-class marine spill response system as a condition of its approval of the pipeline and Shaw said the federal government believes the capacity exists.
"Canada is well prepared for and ready to respond to oil spills," Shaw told the panel.
The government wouldn't commit to specific response times for spills, noting they could vary based on the weather and safety conditions for responding crews.
Shaw also addressed criticism by more than a dozen First Nations groups who have argued the federal government hasn't lived up with its duty to consult aboriginals. He pointed out that the natural resource sector is a large employer of aboriginal people and that continued development provides a "huge economic opportunity."
"Canada takes its consultation responsibility seriously and will meet its obligations," Shaw said.
Earlier Wednesday, the Gitxaala Nation expressed its concern about how the aboriginal engagement process has played out so far.
Due to the adversarial nature of the quasi-judicial proceedings, Kyle said it would be a "curious understanding" of the meaning of consultation to consider the formal environmental assessment process adequate.
"It is not a consultation process," lawyer Rosanne Kyle told the panel. "It's been clear from the outset the [Joint Review Panel] is not conducting consultation."