The Trudeau government will face a test next month that will challenge its commitment to climate policies and its efforts to reconcile with Western Canada.
The Teck Frontier proposal is one of the largest oilsands mines ever proposed in Alberta, and the federal cabinet has until the end of February to decide whether the project will be approved.
“If the decision is made by the federal government either to delay or cancel the Teck project, I can see this province going ballistic and I think that’s going to be a real stab in the heart of the province,” said Jack Mintz, president’s fellow at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy.
“It’s actually going to be a really interesting test of their policies because they do believe in responsible resource development, so the question is, does this fall into the category of what they believe in?”
The proposed open-pit mine would be built 24 kilometres south of Wood Buffalo National Park in northeastern Alberta. If fully developed, it would cover 24,000 hectares, producing up to 250,000 barrels of bitumen every day.
It would also generate up to four million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.
Environmentalists are opposing the project.
In a letter to the federal environment minister, environmental groups — including Indigenous Climate Action, Greenpeace Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation — called for the proposal to be rejected.
“Frontier would severely impact the treaty rights of Indigenous communities, already stressed habitat for endangered species and Canada’s credibility in the fight against climate change,” the letter states.
The project does, however, have support from 14 Indigenous communities in the region.
Fort McKay Métis president Ron Quintal said the project should receive federal approval.
“But that’s what mitigation is for — that’s why we did the work for over two years to ensure we’re mitigating everything we possibly can for the project.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has called for swift approval of the $20.6-billion project, warning that rejection would send a signal that Canada’s oil and gas sector has no future.
But the mine also poses a significant obstacle toward the Liberals’ goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
In an exclusive interview with Global News on Jan. 13, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the cabinet’s decision was being carefully considered.
“We created an approval process that is much more rigorous, that involves Indigenous consultations,” Trudeau said.
“It involves looking at the full range of environmental science and making sure we’re getting things right. We’ve also moved forward on ensuring a price on pollution — we’ve ensured that there’s a cap, an absolute cap on oilsands emissions.
“We are going through that process right now and that process will result in a decision, but I’m not going to prejudge what the decision might be.”