Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan is on a hastily scheduled tour through Alberta as he tries to contain the backlash from the cancellation of the proposed Frontier oil sands mine.
As his colleague Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson continues to distance the Liberals from the cancelled project, Mr. O’Regan is making a full-court press in the Prairie province to allay concerns and affirm his government’s commitment to the oil patch.
The trip was scheduled on Monday, just hours after Teck Resources Ltd. announced it was cancelling the application for its economically dubious and politically controversial project. Mr. O’Regan arrived in Edmonton on Monday and met with provincial Energy Minister Sonya Savage on Tuesday before going to Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo for meetings on Wednesday, according to his office.
Canada’s oil sands resources are “a blessing" and part of “our family business,” Mr. O’Regan said in a series of morning radio interviews, with stations in Calgary and Edmonton. But he also stressed the energy transition is already under way and Ottawa’s goal is that no workers are left behind as it works to mitigate “catastrophic climate impact."
“We have to work together,” Mr. O’Regan told CBC’s Edmonton AM. “The oil sands are just way too important to Canada to just play politics with.”
The minister’s office said he was there to keep the lines of communication open. But Alberta Senator Doug Black, who has previously called for compromise and negotiation between Ottawa and Alberta, said Tuesday that Teck’s decision shows the time for talks is over.
“There’s no more time and I don’t think there’s any more energy for dialogue," Mr. Black said.
He argued it’s now up to Alberta to figure out how to get new energy projects built and chart a path forward. Mr. Wilkinson, though, noted that projects such as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the Keystone XL Pipeline have gone ahead under the Liberal government.
Mr. Wilkinson said the Teck decision isn’t about whether projects are being approved, because he said 20 other projects have been approved but not yet constructed. Rather, it’s about “how do we actually move the sector forward," and he said that means addressing climate change.
He said the sector needs to reduce the emissions intensity of a barrel of oil, as well as absolute emissions from the sector, and there’s room to work on that with Alberta and Saskatchewan. Mr. Wilkinson has not said when Canada will finalize its new climate policy that includes the pledge to hit net-zero emissions. The country’s plan to reach its interim goal of exceeding the 2030 targets, though, needs to be ready before the next international climate negotiations in November.
In Northern Alberta on Wednesday, Mr. O’Regan is scheduled to meet with Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality Mayor Don Scott, the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce and the Alberta Federation of Labour, his office said.
Mr. Scott said he wants to hear “reassuring messages” from the federal minister about the future of the oil sands and its economic development.
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