New resources minister takes over as Canada's pipeline warrior

Wed Mar 19, 2014 5:16pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - When Greg Rickford, Canada's new natural resources minister, became the first Conservative ever to be elected to Parliament from northern Ontario's Kenora district, reports said he began his victory speech: "Mission impossible - accomplished."

Rickford now faces another daunting challenge: winning support for the controversial Keystone XL and Northern Gateway oil pipelines that have galvanized the environmental movement in opposition.

To the job, he brings expertise in dealing with aboriginal communities, referred to in Canada as First Nations, which may prove helpful in winning support for the pipelines.

The Conservative government says the lines are needed to get landlocked crude from northern Alberta's oil sands to international markets.

Rickford, 46, took over the natural resources portfolio from Joe Oliver on Wednesday. Prime Minister Stephen Harper named Oliver to replace veteran Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who resigned on Tuesday.

Elected in 2008, Rickford became parliamentary secretary to the minister of Indian and northern affairs in 2011. In 2013, he became a junior minister, or minister of state, for science, and for development in northern Ontario, notably for the largely untouched but mineral-rich Ring of Fire region.

His most high-profile assignment in his new job, as was Oliver's, will be to encourage the U.S. administration to approve TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL line, which would move Alberta oil sands crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The project has become a lightning rod for environmentalists, who warn Keystone could hasten climate change and who want President Barack Obama to block it.   Continued...

Greg Rickford leaves with his daughter Abigail after being sworn in as Canada's new Natural Resources Minister at Rideau Hall in Ottawa March 19, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie