National Newswatch

CALGARY — Alberta's environment minister says Ottawa shouldn't think it can use federal aid as a bargaining tool to determine the fate of a proposed Frontier oilsands mine.

The federal cabinet has until the end of the month to decide on the $20.6-billion megaproject proposed near Wood Buffalo National Park in northeastern Alberta.

"The Frontier mine is not a political gift," Jason Nixon told reporters Friday.

The project "deserves to be approved on its own merits" and not leveraged for tougher provincial climate action, he added.

A Reuters report, citing unidentified sources, said the Liberal government is preparing an aid package for Alberta to dampen the impact if the mine, proposed by Vancouver miner Teck Resources Ltd., is nixed.

Sources told the news agency that it could include cash to clean up inactive oil and gas wells, expanding the federal stabilization program or funding local infrastructure.

Nixon said those measures, as well as changes to the federal equalization formula that Alberta has demanded, have nothing to do with the Frontier mine, which a joint federal-provincial panel decided this summer should go ahead despite its environmental impacts.

"Albertans are not looking for a (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau handout. We're not interested in that," Nixon said. 

"We want Justin Trudeau and the federal government to get out of Albertans' way, let hardworking Albertans do what they do best, which is create prosperity for this province and create prosperity for this country."

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau called the characterization of the aid package inaccurate.

"We're working on how we can create opportunity in parts of the country that have the need for increased job opportunities," he said Friday in Ottawa.

"The issues around Teck Frontier are separate and distinct. ... It's unrelated to the work that I'm doing on thinking about how we can make sure that Alberta continues to have a robust economy."

Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said last month that Alberta's efforts to combat climate change would be considered in the final decision on the mine, which would run for 40 years and emit about four million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

Nixon said Thursday that he has had positive meetings with his federal counterpart and the notion of a quid-pro-quo never came up.

"Nothing that we have seen speculated inside the media in regards to potential changes to our legislation or things that I've seen speculated as to what the federal government may or may not want has ever been raised with us in any way in any of those meetings."

Nixon declined to say how Alberta would respond should the project be rejected.

"We're not going to show all our cards in the middle of the card game."

He added that a delayed decision would be perceived just as harshly as a rejection.

When Ottawa approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in 2016, it made a point of highlighting the previous Alberta NDP government's oilsands emissions cap and carbon tax.

When Jason Kenney's United Conservatives won the Alberta election last spring, they kept the emissions cap but scrapped the consumer carbon tax and went to court over Ottawa's intention to impose its own version.

Alberta does, however, still have a carbon levy on large industrial emitters that has the federal government's blessing.  

Conservative natural resources critic MP Shannon Stubbs 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," the Alberta MP told reporters in Ottawa. "That is where the vast majority of my constituents are at."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Feb. 7, 2020.

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

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