Good morning! It’s James Keller in Calgary.
As the deadline for federal approval approached, the Frontier oil sands mine proposed by B.C.-based Teck Resources Ltd. had turned into a symbol so great that it collapsed under its own weight.
For the Alberta government, it was nothing short of a do-or-die test for Ottawa’s commitment to the province and the oil industry. If the Trudeau government really had Alberta’s back, this was the moment to show it. The project also represented a badly needed boost for a province, and an oil sector, that has struggled for years.
For the federal government, Frontier presented a difficult choice between competing interests, as Ottawa attempted to balance resource development with the environment and its climate targets. The federal Environment Minister had already warned that Alberta was on track to blow through its own emissions targets.
And for environmentalists, the Frontier mine was a visible target in a fight against the fossil-fuel industry and emissions – a chance to stop what could be one of the last megaprojects in Alberta’s oil patch
Federal cabinet had until the end of the month to make a decision on the project (though there was speculation it could be delayed). But Teck pre-empted that over the weekend by announcing that it was wasn’t waiting for Ottawa and was instead pulling its application.
The company’s CEO released a letter in which he said the decision was driven in large part by a lack of a cohesive climate policy in Canada and lamented that the project had landed in the centre of that debate. Later, CEO Don Lindsay also pointed to rail blockades, related to a natural gas project in B.C., and the public-safety issues they raise.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney laid the blame at the feet of the federal Liberals, arguing that the company never would have pulled the project if it weren’t for delays, protests and “regulatory uncertainty.” The Globe also reported that Mr. Kenney had privately pushed the company to press ahead in the days leading up to the decision.
The Premier told The Globe’s Gary Mason in an interview that the province isn’t prepared to give “an inch” of constitutional jurisdiction to the federal government, even if that means the death of the country’s strategy to fight climate change. He said the federal government needs to make a commitment to Alberta that it won’t stand in the way of other oil sands projects that are stalled.
Mr. Kenney rejected the notion that Canada’s lack of a cohesive climate policy prompted Teck’s decision, despite the company’s letter that identified it as a central reason. Instead, he blamed it on the “lawlessness” and “anarchy” caused by the rail blockades that continue in various parts of the country. To that end, his government has tabled legislation that would impose large fines or jail time on anyone who disrupts “critical infrastructure” such as highways, rail lines or pipelines. The fines would run as high as $200,000.
Here’s what our columnists had to say:
Kelly Cryderman writes that Teck’s decision should be a wake-up call for the industry: “Both sides of the energy and environment debate can argue [Teck CEO Don Lindsay’s] letter bolsters their arguments. … But it also seems patently clear the letter advises the country to stop its internal squabbling and get its act together.”
Adam Radwanksi says there’s lots of blame to go around, but federal government lost control of the debate: “In retrospect, the Liberals could have prevented the issue from spiralling out of control by quickly accepting or rejecting the proposal quickly after their re-election. Instead, they left just enough room for those who know how to play to the most visceral anxieties around the future of fossil fuels.”
Andrew Coyne writes Canada has yet to find a balance between reconciliation, development and carbon pricing: “So instead of everyone getting something, the growing probability is that no one will get anything. We seem not to care whether we get what we want, so long as we can prevent others from getting what they want.”
The Globe and Mail Editorial Board argues that Canadian politicians should heed the letter from the Teck CEO: “It may not reveal everything about what killed Frontier, but it has rather a lot to say about the bigger challenge facing Canada. That challenge is being exacerbated by extreme voices on both ends of the political spectrum.”
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West
RETIREMENT HOMES: B.C.'s government has seized control of a fourth retirement home owned by Retirement Concepts. Health authorities are citing neglect of seniors as the reason for appointing an administration to manage the long-term care operations of Summerland Seniors Village. Concerns have been raised about the care of vulnerable seniors since 2017, when the federal government approved the sale of Retirement Concepts to Beijing-based Anbang Insurance Group.
CARBON TAX: The Alberta Court of Appeal has concluded the federal government’s carbon tax is unconstitutional. In a 4-1 decision, the court rejected the federal Liberal government’s claim that the carbon tax falls within its powers to address matters of national concern under the “peace, order and good government” clause of the Constitution. The highest courts of Ontario and Saskatchewan sided with Ottawa last year in similar cases, setting up a hearing next month where the Supreme Court of Canada will decide on the future of the federal carbon tax. None of the rulings so far, including Alberta’s, are binding.
HOSPICE: B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix is cancelling the province’s contract with a Delta-based hospice that refuses to allow medical assistance in dying on site. The Irene Thomas Hospice, a 10-suite facility run by the non-profit Delta Hospice Society, receives 94 per cent of its operating funds from the Fraser Health Authority. It is also built on land that is leased from the province for $1 per year. The contract will end in 2021 to ensure the area doesn’t lose any hospice beds.
SMALL BUSINESS TAX: Vancouver’s mayor, Kennedy Stewart, isn’t pleased with a new provincial law that is offering relief to small businesses hit by very high property taxes because he doubts many cities will be able to put the new provincial policy in place. The law – introduced Monday by Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson, is meant to solve the issue where small business in a one- or two-storey building gets hit with massive tax increases because the assessed land value has skyrocketed. That can happen if speculators start bidding up local prices on commercial properties or if a city rezones land to higher densities, which almost always increases its market price.
SKIJOR: Part rodeo, part ski event and likely the most quintessentially Albertan sport ever conceived. Over the weekend, photographer Leah Hennel captured scenes from the Skijordue event, where riders on horseback tow skiers and snowboards behind them.
MONEY LAUNDERING INQUIRY: A public inquiry into money laundering in B.C. began Monday with political war of words, with Attorney-General David Eby saying the process is already being hampered by the BC Liberal caucus’s refusal to hand over confidential documents. A key objective of the inquiry is to look into whether or how the former Liberal government let B.C. become a hotbed for the sophisticated crime. However, Liberal House Leader Mike de Jong, who is in charge of managing the request from the commission, said he is in the process of handing over a batch of documents dating back to 2001. On Tuesday, officials from B.C.'s casino regulator attacked the inquiry, saying that compliance procedures are strictly followed.
ALBERTA DOCTORS: The head of the Alberta Medical Association says it’s preparing for a court fight after the province cancelled its master agreement last week and announced a new pay and benefits deal. Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the current $5.4-billion yearly compensation for doctors won’t change. But he said new fee and billing rules will be put in place April 1 to prevent an estimated extra $2-billion being added in the next three years to the physician budget.
OVERDOSES: British Columbia’s first drop in overdose deaths since 2012 signals not the end of the public health crisis but the beginning of refocused efforts to prevent overdoses in the first place, health officials say.
BEER BATTLE: The sale of a craft brewery in Calgary has driven a rift through an area that’s become known as the Barley Belt, with several small brewers taking down flags identifying them as part of the informal brewing neighbourhood over what they see as the invasion of “Big Beer.” Late last month, Banded Peak Brewing, one of 10 breweries in the craft beer hub located south of downtown Calgary, announced it had been bought by Labatt Breweries of Canada. Along with the sale went the area’s trademarked Barley Belt name, which had been officially held by Banded Peak.
COVID-19: B.C. has identified its seventh case of the virus, bringing the national total to 12. The latest patient is a man in his 40s who is a close contact of B.C.’s sixth case, a woman in her 30s who recently returned from Iran.
SASKATCHEWAN TEACHERS: Members of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation have voted overwhelmingly in favour of job action. The union – which represents 13,500 teachers, says about 90 per cent of members cast votes in support of sanctions, and turnout was nearly 97 per cent. Funding and classroom supports are key issues in the labour dispute.
Justine Hunter on reconciliation work being done in B.C.: “Westbank Chief Christopher Derickson doesn’t believe the dispute over Coastal GasLink spells the death knell for reconciliation: He said that it has taken years of hard work to start this process, and it will take many more years to accomplish. ‘It’s beyond the scope of any one group, frankly, to dismiss the work that’s been done,’ he said. ‘I think the fact that we’re still talking about this, demonstrates that reconciliation is not dead.’ "
Dr. Danyaal Raza on the access to health-care trial under way in B.C.: “Right now, in British Columbia, a historic legal challenge to the fundamental principles of Canada’s health system is under way at the province’s highest court. If that sounds significant, it is – even if the details themselves seem a bit rote and complicated.”