The prime minister’s point man for the Prairies said today the fate of the proposed Teck Frontier oilsands mine will be decided next week, setting the table for another potential showdown over an oil and gas project in this country.
Liberal MP Jim Carr said the nearly $21-billion project represents a complex challenge for the federal government, one that demands a balance between the interests of Alberta — which sees the project’s thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue as critical to the province’s future — and environmentalists who insist that approving the project would make a mockery of the Trudeau government’s international commitments on climate change.
“I believe that when the decision is made, the arguments will be advanced why it is in the public interest and the national interest,” Carr said in an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio’s The House. “And always and ultimately, Canadians will decide if they agree.”
Carr insisted he was not signalling that cabinet is ready to approve the project, although he acknowledged that the decision the government announces in the coming days — whatever it is — will be a tough sell.
“It’s complex. It’s full of issues that are important to Alberta and the country,” he said. “As always, there are the balances and trade-offs and the consideration of environmental stewardship while living up to international obligations.”
Canada has committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 — a target that Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith insists will remain out of reach if Teck Frontier is approved.
‘A pretty easy ‘no’ — Erskine-Smith
“There is no clear picture of how this project, which lasts until 2067, fits within our net-zero commitment,” Erskine-Smith said in a separate interview with The House. “When you look at this project, when you look at the climate commitments specifically, I think it’s a pretty easy ‘no’.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been warned already about the political risks of killing the project. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has lobbied hard for its approval, warning Trudeau that a rejection could give a boost to separatist sentiments in the province.
“Here in Alberta, it would interpreted as a rejection of our most important industry and it could raise roiling western alienation to a boiling point — something I know your government has been attentive to since the election,” Kenney wrote in a Feb. 5 letter to Trudeau.
“The rejection would send a signal to the international investment community that Canada’s regulatory system is arbitrary, subject to moving and invisible goal posts and that even the best evidence can be trumped by narrow politics.”
The Frontier mine has received regulatory approval already, even though the review panel concluded there would significant adverse environmental affects.
This week, federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson wrote to his Alberta counterpart urging him to introduce regulations to enforce a 100-megatonne cap on greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands introduced by the province’s previous NDP government.
Adding to the stakes was a warning issued by Teck Resources on Friday that it would take a writedown of more than $1 billion if Frontier is rejected.
Carr said that’s just another factor to consider.
“You know that’s their point of view. There are lots of points of view,” he told CBC News. “The one point of view that will determine the fate of the project is the government’s assessment of Canada’s interest.”
Erskine-Smith said he doesn’t believe the project is profitable at current prices for oil — or that the Liberals would escape unscathed politically if cabinet approves it.
“In terms of political backlash I think there will be great concern in my community that we are not taking our climate change obligations seriously,” he said.
“We have obligations to the work, to future generations, and we have to do our part in tackling climate change.”