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There’s trouble brewing in the badlands of the Frontier, Teck Frontier that is, the massive oil sands mine of Teck Resources planned for northern Alberta. Teck Frontier has been under development for the past decade but now faces a critical hurdle: the federal government must decide before the end of February whether or not to approve the highly controversial project.
Teck Frontier sets two formidable eco-forces against each other: economy versus ecology. The dispute pits a vital natural resource investment in Alberta with its champion Jason Kenney, against the global threat of the climate crisis, including Canada’s commitment under the Paris Agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) 30% by 2030, led by the Prime Minister.
When Justin Trudeau was re-elected, he was well aware that climate change was “the most significant point of tension between Ottawa and the West.” Teck Frontier happens to be the latest among these points of tension.
The premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, never acknowledges any problems with such projects and has come out swinging in support of Teck Frontier. He recently stated that rejecting the giant oil sands project would be “devastating,” adding "it's hard to overstate the response of Albertans.” The first comment rallies his supporters, and the second is a threat.
The deceptive tactics of Mr. Kenney are to divert every oil and gas decision away from the real problems of the climate crisis and other environmental issues. He does this masterfully by framing all such projects as a choice between being pro- or anti-Albertan. His patriotic fear mongering has been promoted by the right-wing press. An emotional straw man debate emerges which pushes the federal government into an untenable position.
This is not a negotiation; it is political blackmail.
The strategy has become the trademark of Mr. Kenney in discussions with the federal government, especially when it comes to oil and gas projects. Jason Kenney does this every single time!
In short, the wrath of Alberta will fall upon Ottawa if they dare reject this project. The not-so-subtle threat is that Alberta will re-examine its partnership in Confederation, if it doesn’t get what it wants. Mr. Kenney won’t directly support the “s” word, but hint: it rhymes with reparation.
Elizabeth May slammed the tactic of the Premier: “Jason Kenney and western separatists will have to recognize there is no planet named Alberta.” If Alberta did separate, the new nation would be, by far, the largest per capita greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
For the noted environmentalist Bill McKibben, Teck Frontier is the line in the oil sand that cannot be crossed, where the federal government has to demonstrate its commitment to fighting the climate crisis:
If an alcoholic assured you he was taking his condition very seriously, but also laying in a 40-year store of bourbon, you’d be entitled to doubt his sincerity...
'Premier Kenney recently said rejecting the Teck Frontier mine would be “devastating,” adding "it's hard to overstate the response of Albertans.” The first comment rallies his supporters, the second is a threat,' writes @geraldkutney
The statement, then, was tweeted by climate champion Greta Thunberg. Back in September, Mr. Kenney had refused to attend the climate-strike campaign organized by Ms. Thunberg for global action on climate change because it was “coming from the radical left.”
Alberta has the highest and fastest growing GHG emissions in the country, with no sign of slowing down. The culprit is the oil and gas industry, and within this sector the only growth in emissions between 2005 (Paris base year) and 2017 (latest available) was the oil sands, which increased from 35.5 to 80.5 million tonnes (Mt, megatonnes). The Frontier oil sands mine would add another 4 Mt annually (though Teck has given assurances that it will be carbon-neutral by 2050).
The only province (excluding Alberta, of course) with GHG emissions higher than the oil sands is Ontario, which, however, has bragging rights to the largest reductions in emissions over the same period, but these reductions were offset by the rise in the oil sands emissions.
The Teck Frontier controversy symbolizes the laissez-faire attitude of the government of Alberta that has allowed GHG emissions to soar without restraint. Alberta has a legislative cap on GHG emissions of 100 Mt, but approved projects are already pushing 130 Mt by some estimates.
Canada is having major challenges with its Paris obligations (to reduce GHG emissions to 511 Mt in 2030; in 2017, we were at 716 Mt). How can we reach our national targets if the oil sands alone are spewing out (at least) 100 Mt per year?
Then, there is the Liberal campaign pledge to be climate neutral by 2050. Canada has been talking a lot about the climate crisis (and rightly so), but when will the federal government walk the talk? At some point, all provinces have to start pulling their weight on reducing emissions with solid commitments.
Alberta is the dominant offender. The question arises how this 100 Mt provincial cap will be enforced, or even if it will be enforced. Can we trust the Premier to take action when he has never demonstrated any intention to deal with greenhouse gas emissions?
My frustration is that Jason Kenney has never accepted the science on climate change being caused by us (mainly from the burning of fossil fuels). Judging by his actions so far - including suing the federal government over the carbon tax and establishing a propaganda agency to promote the oil industry - he is simply a climate denier who will never agree to reduce fossil fuel use.
What should the Prime Minister do? The choice is easy. If Teck Frontier is approved, the extortion tactics will be used again and again with every new oil and gas project. You don’t “pay” blackmailers.
Reject Teck Frontier.