Canada's Trudeau under pressure from Conservative rival to back new LNG

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's new Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre is putting pressure on Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government to back new liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects as European countries reach out in a bid to plug energy shortfalls.

In August, Trudeau said "there has never been a strong business case" for LNG terminals on the east coast during a visit by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who came seeking a "major role" for Canada in replacing Russian supplies.

"Russia's invasion of Ukraine has exposed much of the western world's over-reliance on dictator oil and gas coming from the likes of (Vladimir) Putin's Russia," Poilievre said in a written response this week to Reuters' questions.

"Canada can play a pivotal role by providing clean and responsibly sourced Canadian energy," he said, adding that "a Poilievre government would simplify and expedite approval processes, and restore investor confidence in resource development projects."

Poilievre has mostly avoided interviews with the media since a landslide leadership victory a month ago, but in parliament and on social media he has continued to reject the government's carbon pricing system and reassure the Western oil patch - a Conservative stronghold - that he is on their side.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has increased global demand for alternative oil and gas sources, putting pressure on Trudeau to support new fossil fuel projects at a time when he is focused on his campaign pledges to cut emissions to fight climate change, and develop clean tech.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said this week that Canada has set up working groups with Germany and the European Union to determine whether it can "potentially assist with LNG" from eastern Canada.

A German government source who was not authorized to speak on the record said Canada and Germany "are still working on" a possible LNG project.

"Minister Wilkinson has spoken often and directly with his German and European counterparts, and with members of the private sector, regarding LNG opportunities on Canada’s east coast," said Keean Nembhard, a spokesman for Wilkinson.

"While there are real opportunities for exporting LNG in Canada, companies must decide what projects are economically feasible," and Canada will "support and grow Canada's energy sector in line with our allies' needs and the imperative to flight climate change," Nembhard said.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; additional reporting by Andreas Rinke in Berlin; editing by Jonathan Oatis)