VANCOUVER, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Canada's Liberal government on Monday vowed to toughen its response to oil spills at sea, a move some environmentalists said was a clear signal Ottawa will approve a hotly-contested pipeline from Alberta's oil sands to the Pacific Coast.
As part of a marine safety plan to protect oceans, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa would invest in better response measures and research into how to clean up oil spills.
Trudeau said in a statement that the plan, set to cost C$1.5 billion ($1.1 billion) over five years, "will make Canada a world-leader in marine safety."
The government has until Dec. 19 to decide whether to allow Kinder Morgan Inc to twin the Trans Mountain pipeline, a project that is opposed by environmentalists, who are concerned about the impact of developing Alberta's oil sands, and aboriginal activists who feel they were not consulted fairly.
Canada's energy industry, which is already struggling with high unemployment and low prices, as well as the government of Alberta are pressuring Ottawa to approve the project.
"Today's announcement ... is the strongest signal yet that the Liberal Government is trying to create a context that would justify their approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline," the Stand.earth environmental group said in a statement.
Trans Mountain runs from Alberta to the Pacific province of British Columbia, where the local government has laid down five conditions which must be met before it allows pipelines to be built on its territory.
One of the demands is that the federal government upgrade its ability to tackle oil spills.
The expanded pipeline would primarily carry heavy crude oil, the bulk of which would be loaded onto tankers at Kinder Morgan's Vancouver marine terminal.
$1 = 1.3367 Canadian dollars Reporting by Catherine Ngai, writing by David Ljunggren; Editing by Alan Crosby