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Wilkinson ‘wrestling’ with how Frontier oilsands mine would fit into climate commitments

Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announces funding for climate action at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh.
Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announces funding for climate action at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

The federal environment minister says he’s spoken with his Alberta counterpart about how Canada’s climate commitments could weigh into his decision about a large proposed oilsands mine.

Alberta’s United Conservative government has urged Ottawa for a speedy approval of the Teck Resources $20.6-billion Frontier project near Wood Buffalo National Park in northeastern Alberta.

A federal-provincial review this summer determined Frontier would be in the public interest, even though it would be likely to harm the environment and Indigenous people.

On Wednesday, the Fort McKay Métis announced that the First Nation would be endorsing the project.

“Over months of discussion, we are confident that Teck Resources does more than tick off the boxes of consultation and engagement,” said Fort McKay president Ron Quintal in a news release.

“We have found Teck to be authentically committed to the vision of development that Fort McKay shares, namely of prudent environmental stewardship and shared community benefit.”

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Teck has been consulting with the Fort McKay Métis for months, said the release, and one of the aspects that is “critical” to regulatory approval is the ability of Teck to demonstrate consultation with Indigenous communities.

Jonathan Wilkinson says if he agrees there would be significant adverse impacts, he will refer the matter to cabinet to make a decision by the end of February.

Teck has projected the mine will emit 4.1 megatonnes of carbon dioxide a year, but some environmental groups have said that estimate is too low.

READ MORE: Indigenous activists protest proposal of massive Alberta oilsands mine at COP25 in Madrid

Wilkinson says Ottawa must assess how Frontier fits into the government’s promise to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

“That is something that we will have to be discussing and wrestling with as we make a decision one way or the other,” Wilkinson said Tuesday after announcing up to $8.5 million in energy efficiency funding for the University of Calgary.

“That is a target that is not informed by politics. It’s informed by science.”

READ MORE: Public invited to comment on proposed $20B Frontier oilsands mine project in Alberta

He said he’s had that discussion with Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon.

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Wilkinson said the two met before climate talks in Madrid this month and they planned to talk again on his current Alberta trip.

Meetings were also lined up with “a number” of oil and gas company CEOs, as well as tech companies.