Alberta’s environment minister is disputing a First Nation’s claims that the provincial government’s refusal to consult on issues related to the proposed Teck Frontier oilsands mine could derail the project’s approval.
Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), has gone public this week with concerns that Alberta has failed to address environmental and social issues related to the $20.6-billion project.
The federal cabinet is expected to decide by the end of the month if Teck Frontier will go ahead. A joint federal-provincial environmental panel recommended approval last July.
In a letter Wednesday to federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon said Adam’s claims are not accurate.
“We must not get caught up in incrementalism, continually addressing new requests that are peripheral to the project and politicize it unnecessarily,” Nixon wrote.
In the letter, Nixon urged Wilkinson to look at how Alberta has made “adjustments” in its approach to the Teck project over the last 10 years. Nixon suggested Adam has an agenda by raising concerns at the 11th hour.
“I note that Chief Adam has now also injected direct financial compensation into his apparent demands, above and beyond funds for environmental mitigation,” the letter said.
“This is also in addition to ACFN’s commercial agreements with Teck and the potential for an equity stake in projects via Alberta’s new Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation.”
In the same letter, Nixon took issue with Wilkinson’s statements in the media that Alberta’s 100-megatonne cap on emissions needs to be set in regulation. He accused the federal minister of “changing the goal posts” because the issue never came up in discussions.
Premier Jason Kenney met privately Thursday with Alberta chiefs in Edmonton about children in care, and the federal Bill C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, which came into force on Jan. 1.
On Feb. 7, Adam wrote a letter to all chiefs set to meet with Kenney, urging them to confront the premier about a lack of consultation and sharing royalties from resource projects.
He alleged that Alberta prefers to deal with First Nations indirectly through the new Indigenous Opportunities Corporation (IOC) and that government funds earmarked for consultation, court challenges and land claims has been diverted from Indigenous Relations to the IOC.
“AFCN is a supporter of the Teck Frontier project, however, Alberta’s refusal to work with us respectfully jeopardizes this project’s federal approval, putting jobs and benefits for our Nation (and all Albertans) at risk,” Adam wrote.
“Premier Kenney has been vocal in the media blaming Canada for delaying the project, however the truth is that it is Alberta’s refusal to co-operate in good faith that puts the project at risk.”
Adam said the IOC won’t help First Nations unless they have a $20-million up-front payment.
Alberta Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson refuted that claim. He said the IOC will only back projects worth $20 million or more, but the ownership can be shared, as long as 25 per cent comes from Alberta.
Wilson said applicants don’t need to turn over their financial information, contrary to what Adam said in his letter.
Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Kenney and his government have put approval of the Teck project at risk by failing to work with the ACFN and undoing the work she did while premier.
While ACFN signed on to the project in September 2018, Notley said there was still work that needed to be done on environmental mitigation.
“How this relationship could change so quickly is beyond disappointing,” Notley said at a news conference in Edmonton on Wednesday. “It is, quite frankly, irresponsible.”
She said ACFN told the federal government in December that they couldn’t get Alberta back to the table after reaching out after the provincial election which brought Kenney and the United Conservative Party to power.
Subsequent discussions the following month between ACFN and the Alberta government in January went nowhere, she said.
Notley said Kenney needs to listen to the chiefs he is meeting with, and take action.
“If this project ultimately does end up in jeopardy, the majority of blame can be laid squarely at the feet of Jason Kenney and the UCP for engaging in an arrogant and disrespectful and frankly, sloppy failure to do their job,” she said.
Treaty 8 chiefs, including Adam, walked out of the meeting over concerns about the children in care and demanded a separate meeting on Feb. 27.
At a news conference afterward, Wilson downplayed the walkout. He said the chiefs wanted a separate meeting to deal with their own issues and denied there was an issue.
“There’s no friction. One hundred per cent, ” he said, adding that Adam told him there are discussions underway about air and water quality mitigation issues around the Teck project.