Philippe Couillard said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press that if Quebec is simply a "transit place" for TransCanada's proposed $12 billion Energy East project, he doesn't see much benefit.
Canada is looking for ways to export its growing oil sands production, but the Obama administration has delayed a decision on TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas. Another project, the Northern Gateway pipeline to the west coast, proposed by Canadian energy delivery company Enbridge, also remains in doubt.
The northern Alberta region has the world's third largest oil reserves, but there is fierce environmental and aboriginal opposition to new pipelines, especially over potential spills.
Rail transport is an option, but "we've seen unfortunately and tragically in Quebec that rail transport is not necessarily the safest way to go," said Couillard, referring to the July 2013 runaway oil train that exploded in Quebec, killing 47 people.
"I prefer a world without fossil fuel, only electric, you know," he added.
The premier was in New York seeking investment for a plan to develop the vast northern part of his largely French-speaking province. He was not announcing any new commitments but called the reception "very positive."
The plan aims to tap northern Quebec's mining, sustainable energy and forest resources and attract more than $50 billion in both private and public investment by 2035.
Couillard said this visit was meant to lay out broader issues including the impact on the region's environment and on its indigenous communities, which make up a third of the far-flung population of just 120,000.
The next step is coming back to potential investors with specific projects, the premier said.
Infrastructure is a key step, and Couillard said his government is partnering with three mining companies on about $20 million in studies to see exactly where a port-linked railroad project, a top priority, should go. Canadian National Railway dropped a previous plan in 2013 because of delayed mining projects.
Northern Quebec's resources include rare earths, and the premier said he expects to see interest from U.S. and European investors who are looking to diversify a supply that is overwhelmingly controlled so far by China.
On other issues, the premier criticized Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government for not being "very proactively engaged in climate change."
Couillard said Canada should be at the forefront of the issue because it is an oil producer, and he said Quebec would have a "very active and visible" role at the Paris global summit in December where a landmark climate agreement is to be adopted.