OTTAWA — Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon flatly rejected any suggestion that Ottawa could placate the province with an aid package if it turns down the $20-billion Frontier oilsands mine.
“Albertans are not looking for a Justin Trudeau handout,” Nixon said in a press conference Friday. “We’re not interested in that. We want Justin Trudeau and the federal government to get out of Albertans’ way, to let hard-working Albertans do what they do best, which is create prosperity for this province and create prosperity for this country.”
Reuters, citing anonymous sources, reported Thursday that if the Frontier mine plan was rejected by cabinet, federal officials were preparing various streams of funding for Alberta, including cash to help clean up thousands of abandoned wells spread across the province.
Nixon said the province has not been approached by Ottawa for a potential deal. “The Frontier mine is not a political gift,” he said.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told an audience at the Canada Institute in Washington, “It’s hard to overstate the response of Albertans, not just our government, but Albertans broadly, if this project were to be rejected.”
Teck has already spent $1 billion during the past decade to clear a series of regulatory hurdles, invest in technology designed to lighten the mine’s carbon footprint and forge agreements with First Nations groups, Kenney said. A rejection from Ottawa now would signal to investors that despite such efforts, projects can ultimately be scuttled by an “arbitrary political decision” made without any transparency, he said.
“I think that would be a devastating message to send in terms of investor confidence at a time when we are struggling to attract foreign direct investment to the Canadian economy,” he said, speaking alongside Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe. “So the response would be very challenging.”
Demand for crude oil will continue during the coming decades even as energy transitions away from fossil fuels, Kenney added, and it’s better that the last barrel of oil come from “a stable reliable democracy with the highest environmental and human rights labour standards on earth. Teck represents a pathway to that.”
The Liberal cabinet’s decision on Frontier, proposed by Vancouver-based Teck Resources, will be released by end of month.
Environmental groups and others have called on the prime minister to reject the proposal, saying it conflicts with the Liberal pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The project would emit around four million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, over a 40-year period.
Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau downplayed the Reuters report, saying efforts by federal officials were unrelated to the approval or rejection of the oilsands mine.
Nixon on Friday joined other Conservative voices who have called on the Liberals to support the project “on its merits,” claiming that a rejection would undermine Canada’s regulatory process and further sour intergovernmental relations.
“For the prime minster and the government to come in at the last minute and change the rules will create significant instability within our province,” he said.
“We have been clear with the federal government that we do have a unity crisis brewing within this country.”
The Frontier mine is not a political gift
Frustrations have been mounting in the province amid a more than decade-long failure to build major pipeline infrastructure, causing Canadian oil prices to sell at a steep discount to American rivals. The Trudeau government was completely wiped out in Alberta and Saskatchewan during the 2019 election, largely as a result of growing distrust toward Ottawa.
The election results speak to the “divisions we have in our nation,” Moe said. “I think, in fairness, that manifested itself on election night.”
Industry groups have complained that regulatory reviews in Canada have stretched on years longer than what is appropriate, due at times to legal challenges and political wrangling.
Trudeau is reportedly facing pressure from within his own caucus to reject the project, though a number of cabinet ministers support its approval and later development.
Toronto Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, who serves as parliamentary secretary for housing, told reporters on Friday he had “significant concerns” with some of the environmental impacts associated with Frontier, particularly for those in northern First Nations communities.
“And we talk a lot about Alberta, but I think it’s time we talk more about the Northwest Territories, in particular the health of the Delta, the Mackenzie Delta,” he said.
Alberta MP Shannon Stubbs, the Conservative natural resources critic, said the Teck Frontier decision will be a defining moment for the Liberal government.
“If the Liberals reject the Teck Frontier mine, Albertans will perceive that as a rejection of Alberta from Canada,” she said in Ottawa. “That is where the vast majority of my constituents are at.”
Don Lindsay, the CEO of Teck, recently said it was “anyone’s guess” whether Frontier would be built due to years of regulatory delays and political pressure. Some analysts have suggested the project would not be viable in today’s oil markets, after global oil prices slumped in mid-2014.
— With files from The Canadian Press