Skip to main content

The proposed project, spread over 24,000 hectares in northeastern Alberta, could produce up to 260,000 barrels a day of bitumen.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Alberta has drawn a line in the sand over the Teck Frontier project, challenging Ottawa to approve the oil sands development or risk destroying its relationship with the province.

The proposed project, spread over 24,000 hectares in northeastern Alberta, could produce up to 260,000 barrels a day of bitumen. It has been given the go-ahead from federal and provincial regulators, but its fate now lies in the hands of the federal cabinet, which is due to make a final decision this month.

Environment Minister Jason Nixon told reporters in Calgary on Friday that “there is no excuse” for the federal government to withhold final approvals after the project spent the past decade undergoing reviews.

Opinion: The lose-lose proposition that is the Teck Frontier oil sands project

Teck has played by the rules, he said, and for Ottawa to change those rules at the 11th hour would send “a devastating signal” to potential investors in Alberta and across Canada.

“Their decision in the next few weeks, when it comes to this project, will determine much of the future on interprovincial and federal relations in the months and years to come.”

“We have a unity crisis brewing in this country,” he said, and Albertans will not accept anything other than a greenlight for the project.

Mr. Nixon’s comments came after reports Thursday that Ottawa is considering a potential aid package for Alberta in the event it nixes the Teck Frontier mine. The minister said he had heard no such plans from his federal counterparts.

“Albertans are not looking for a Justin Trudeau handout. We’re not interested in that. We want Justin Trudeau and the federal government to get out of Alberta’s way and let hard-working Albertans do what they do best, which is create prosperity for this province and create prosperity for this country,” he said.

Although Alberta’s United Conservative government has been pushing for changes to federal fiscal stabilization transfers, Finance Minister Bill Morneau rejected any suggestion that the cabinet’s decision on the mine is connected to government efforts on that front.

The fiscal-stabilization program is meant to provide short-term federal assistance when provinces face sharp year-over-year declines in revenue due to an economic shock. Mr. Morneau announced in December that his department would look at enhancements to the program after Alberta and other provinces said it was outdated.

Mr. Morneau told reporters on Friday that the work is in progress and likely will not be complete until spring. While he declined to be more specific, that timeline suggests an update could come in his next federal budget.

“We’re working on how we can create opportunity in parts of the country that have the need for increased job opportunities. So that is the way I would characterize it.”

“We’re thinking about how we can create advantage through investments across the country. The issues around Teck Frontier are separate and distinct. That’s going through a process that’s going to the cabinet."

Mr. Nixon said Albertans are “waiting with bated breath” to hear whether the federal government will allow the Frontier mine. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi – attending a Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting of big-city mayors in Ottawa – is also hearing repeatedly about the proposed oil sands mine.

He said he has been stopped in the street and in his hotel lobby by Liberal MPs who want his take on the project. “It’s absolutely top-of-mind. And no one knows what will happen.”

The Calgary mayor said if the project is turned down, international investors in every industry would question whether Canada is a good place to spend money. “And certainly, within the energy sector, people would say, ‘Is this a moratorium? Does this mean no more energy projects in Canada, ever?’ ”

He added that the Frontier mine is a good project and should be approved, but that the rest of Canada also needs to understand what Alberta’s climate plans are. “It would be helpful to dial down the rhetoric and the heat on both sides, and talk about what would be a rational way forward.”

With reports from Kelly Cryderman in Calgary and and Bill Curry in Ottawa

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.