Alberta's premier says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to move swiftly to approve the Teck Frontier oilsands mine north of Fort McMurray.
Jason Kenney says there is no reason to delay the go-ahead for the $20.6-billion project near Wood Buffalo National Park in northeastern Alberta.
A federal-provincial review last summer determined Frontier would be in the public interest, even though it would be likely to harm the environment and the land, resources and culture of Indigenous people.
"Their current deadline is the end of February for a decision ... and I've been very clear to the prime minister ... if they say no to this project, then they are signalling his earlier statement that he wants to phase out the oilsands," Kenney said Monday.
Trudeau commented at a town-hall meeting in January 2017 that his government was attempting to balance economic and environmental concerns.
“We can’t shut down the oilsands tomorrow. We need to phase them out. We need to manage the transition off of our dependence on fossil fuels, but it’s going to take time, and, in the meantime, we have to manage that transition,” Trudeau said at the time.
The Frontier mine north of Fort McMurray, Alta., would produce 260,000 barrels of oil a day and about four million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year, for more than 40 years.
The federal government must make a decision on the project by the end of February under the Environmental Assessment Act.
Kenney said it's time that the federal Liberals start listening to the majority of First Nations leaders who support projects such as Teck, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northeastern British Columbia.
"I implore the federal government. If reconciliation means something, surely it means saying 'yes' to economic development for First Nations people."
Kenney was speaking at an announcement of the new board of directors for the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corp. The Crown corporation plans to allocate up to $1 billion in support, such as loan guarantees, to qualified First Nations seeking an equity position in major resource projects.
The communities need to come up with $20 million for investment, but can receive support of up to $250 million.
Kenney said the corporation could provide financial support to a group seeking to buy a stake in the $7.4-billion Trans Mountain project.
"We continue to discuss this with the federal government," he said. "The prime minister has expressed an interest in selling a stake to First Nations. If that future potential First Nations consortium comes forward to the (Alberta corporation) with an application, I'm sure it will be given serious consideration."
At least three different groups in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan are seeking full or partial ownership of the pipeline, which carries crude oil from Alberta to the west coast.
The federal government is studying the best options for Indigenous communities to reap economic benefits from the project, but Ottawa isn't planning to sell the pipeline while legal and political risks remain.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2020