Gov. Christie on Thursday will travel to Canada, where he is expected to discuss energy policy, a topic that could become part of a 2016 presidential platform.
The trade mission, which begins Thursday in Calgary, Alberta, and ends Friday with stops in Ottawa and Toronto, Ontario, marks Christie's second foreign trip in three months as he considers a run for president. He led a New Jersey delegation to Mexico in September, where he also talked energy, an issue with foreign and domestic dimensions.
With the Mexico and Canada trips, Christie "prepares himself well to talk with firsthand knowledge about how our North American partners view the energy question," said Lanhee Chen, who served as policy director for 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Choose New Jersey, a nonprofit financed by businesses, is the sponsor of both trips.
In Mexico, Christie advocated for greater investment in infrastructure to take advantage of domestic energy production. He urged completion of the Keystone XL pipeline extension, which would carry petroleum extracted from Alberta's oil sands and connect to existing pipelines running to the Gulf Coast.
Christie is scheduled to speak Thursday at the Calgary Petroleum Club. Aides said the governor would build on themes expressed in Mexico, where he said President Obama's delay of the pipeline project had harmed U.S. relations with Canada and had a "chilling effect" on economic growth. The Keystone project, opposed by some environmentalists, requires presidential approval.
In Calgary, Christie also will meet with the premier of Alberta and with energy interests, including the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
The nine-member delegation traveling with Christie includes Robert Grady, a former White House official under President George H.W. Bush, and Clifford Sobel, a former U.S. ambassador to Brazil. Grady recently stepped down as chairman of the New Jersey Investment Council, which oversees strategy for investing the state's pension fund. He and Sobel helped coordinate the Mexico trip.
Representing the energy field will be Laurence Downes, chairman of the board and CEO of New Jersey Resources, and Ralph Izzo, chairman and CEO of Public Service Enterprise Group.
Izzo said Wednesday that he hoped to learn about export plans by Canada that could affect New Jersey, including the possible construction of transmission lines to carry hydro power into the Hudson Valley. New Jersey also could learn about infrastructure needed to bring more natural gas into the state, he said.
The Canadian energy export "least impactful" to the Garden State, Izzo said, is the petroleum extracted in Alberta. Plans have focused on carrying it to the Gulf Coast, where the Keystone pipeline ends.
Choose New Jersey is a nonprofit launched after Christie took office in 2010. In addition to the Mexico trip in September, it paid for Christie's 2012 visit to Israel.
Christie's trips fit with Choose New Jersey's mission "to promote New Jersey globally as a premier business location," said Tracye McDaniel, president and CEO.
After Calgary, Christie will visit Ottawa, where he is scheduled to attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the National War Memorial, and then Toronto, where he will speak at a seminar for Choose New Jersey.
The nonprofit - which since its launch has been funded by $12 million from 40 businesses, labor groups, and educational institutions, according to McDaniel - has participated in two previous trips to Canada. One was a trade mission by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who visited Montreal and Toronto. Christie's trip will cover "new markets," McDaniel said.
The group also has been active in Taiwan, South Korea, and India, as well as throughout the United States.
McDaniel said Choose New Jersey was still determining the costs of the Mexico trip. Regarding the governor's 2012 Israel trip, she could not explain why an IRS form filed by the organization that year did not list costs under "travel expenses for public officials."
For the Israel trip, taxpayers paid the governor's security costs, which were nearly $40,000, according to news reports at the time. Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts said Wednesday that state costs of the Mexico trip would be released once finalized.
Asked about the organization's decision to underwrite Christie's trips as he considers a run for president, McDaniel said it was "protocol" for governors to represent their states on trade missions. Canada is New Jersey's largest trade partner.
"We need to be in these markets, whether it's domestic or global," she said. "As far as I'm concerned, this is great for New Jersey."
Energy policy has connections to economic growth, which makes it an important issue for a presidential candidate, said Chen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.
He said the two North American countries "wouldn't necessarily be the first on other people's lists, but accomplishes things" for Christie. He called energy "a salient political and policy issue going into 2016."