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Atlantic premiers meet to discuss clean energy loop, COVID-19 management

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston says he and his Atlantic counterparts heard encouraging statements from Ottawa on Tuesday about the importance of the proposed Atlantic Loop clean energy project, but no firm financial commitment.
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HALIFAX — Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston says he and his Atlantic counterparts heard encouraging statements from Ottawa on Tuesday about the importance of the proposed Atlantic Loop clean energy project, but no firm financial commitment. 

The estimated $5-billion proposal was among the priorities discussed during a virtual meeting hosted by Houston that involved the region's four premiers.

In a post-meeting interview, Houston said federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc updated the leaders on Ottawa's position on the Atlantic Loop, which would connect the four provinces to hydroelectricity from Quebec and Labrador.

"It's a very significant project with a lot of moving parts … we (Atlantic premiers) were encouraged to just hear the confirmation from Minister LeBlanc that they also feel a sense of urgency and also see the importance of this project."

However, Houston said the minister didn't give the four premiers a specific amount the federal government would be willing to spend on the project, which would include major upgrades to the region's transmission systems.

"There's still work to be done on that (funding)," the premier said. "But in terms of their interest level from an environmental perspective, from an economic development initiative perspective, I have every indication that they see the importance of this project just like we do."

Houston said he hopes some kind of word on federal support will come within months as opposed to years given the urgency around climate change.

A spokesman for LeBlanc said the minister was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.

The premiers issued a news release following the meeting, stating that the Atlantic Loop is key to the region achieving a "clean-power future." 

Houston, in particular, has placed a high priority in getting the project off the ground.

In November, he met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa to plead for federal help, and in October, he hosted a meeting to discuss the project with officials from Nova Scotia Power, provincial opposition leaders and the province's 11 members of Parliament.

Houston's Progressive Conservative government has enshrined a series of environment and climate change targets in legislation, including a new goal of phasing out coal-fired electricity generation by 2030. But Houston has maintained that regional ratepayers would pay a disproportionate amount of the hefty cost to move to cleaner energy if the Atlantic Loop isn't heavily subsidized by the federal government. 

Meanwhile, the Atlantic premiers also discussed the impact of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus and the necessity of ensuring that health-care systems can continue to provide important services. 

Immigration was also on the agenda, with the premiers saying they want to continue working with Ottawa to find ways of addressing labour shortages in all four provinces. They say that includes broadening access to federal and provincial student job programs for international students. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2022. 

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press