The Canadian government has the power to delay a decision on whether to approve a massive new oil sands project, a key cabinet minister said on Tuesday, a sign Ottawa could push back what will be a contentious decision.
Ottawa must decide by the end of February if Teck Resources Ltd. can build the $20.6-billion Frontier mine in northern Alberta, capable of eventually producing 260,000 barrels of crude oil a day.
If the minority Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says yes, it would call into question his promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. But saying no could infuriate Alberta, already angry over what local politicians claim is Ottawa’s bias against the energy industry.
“Cabinet can make a decision to approve, it can make a decision to reject, it can make a decision to delay,” Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told reporters.
“I’m not going to opine on what that decision is going to be,” said Mr. Wilkinson, who must formally decide whether to approve the project or refer the matter to cabinet.
Officials said the final say will rest with cabinet, saying ministers have the power to ask for more information about the project. This would mean extending the end-February deadline.
“Obviously this government has made commitments with respect to addressing greenhouse gas emissions and we would have to ensure that they fit within that context,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said on Tuesday that Frontier had been through years of rigorous environmental scrutiny and added, “It’s time this $20-billion project got approved.”
Mr. Trudeau has repeatedly said Canada will need to rely on crude oil for years to come as it moves to build a cleaner economy. The project has also split the country’s Indigenous people, whose living standards Mr. Trudeau vows to improve.
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