Calgary

Kenney promises new law to protect 'critical infrastructure' after Teck Frontier withdrawal

Premier Jason Kenney promised to do "whatever it takes" to protect Alberta's economic future — including legislation to avert railway blockades — as organizations reacted Monday to the bombshell news that mining giant Teck Resources was withdrawing its application for a $20-billion oilsands mine. 

Teck says project became focal point of national debate on climate, economy

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Monday that his government would introduce legislation to protect what he calls 'critical infrastructure' in the province and would look at ways to directly invest in the energy sector due to 'existential threats.' (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Premier Jason Kenney promised to do "whatever it takes" to protect Alberta's economic future — including legislation to avert railway blockades — as organizations reacted Monday to the bombshell news that mining giant Teck Resources was withdrawing its application for a $20-billion oilsands mine. 

Kenney said Monday in a news conference that his government would introduce legislation to protect what he calls "critical infrastructure" in the province, including railways. 

Bill 1 would enact "new stiff penalties for anyone who riots on or who tries to impair critical infrastructure in the province of Alberta," he said. 

"The Government of Alberta is prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure our economic future, including a future of natural resource development. We will not back down."

  • Watch Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Opposition Leader Rachel Notley and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson disagree about why the project didn't go forward in the video below.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Opposition Leader Rachel Notley and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson agree that the Frontier oilsands mine would have brought work to Alberta - but have different ideas about why the project failed to go forward. 3:08

Kenney also said that while his government believes in free market solutions, it would look at ways to directly invest in the energy sector due to "existential threats."

He did not provide details.

"We will, as a government, be assessing in which ways we may need to ensure future investment in the Canadian energy sector to ensure an economic future for this province. There will be news in that sense to come."

When asked if that could mean an investment in the Frontier mine, Kenney said, "We're ruling nothing out."

Teck's reasons

The Teck Frontier mine had become a focal point of national debate around climate change and the economy, and its chief executive cited that nexus as one of the reasons the company was stepping aside.

Don Lindsay wrote in a letter to Canada's environment minister that he hoped stepping away from Frontier would help Canada have a much-needed conversation. 

  • Hear more from Alberta Premier Jason Kenney about the ways his government would protect "critical infrastructure" in the province and boost the energy industry in his full news conference in the video below.

He reiterated that sentiment Monday morning at an investors conference in Florida and said it became clear in the "past few days" that there was no clear path forward for the project. 

Lindsay also pointed to the blockades that have sprung up across the country, jamming national rail networks in protest against a natural gas pipeline in B.C., as having a significant impact on the company. 

"As a result of these illegal blockades, there has been some deep concern expressed across the country, in particular with relation to the safety of railway employees, to the safety of the public and the protesters and the effects they're having on the Canadian economy and individual Canadians," said Lindsay.

"As Canada's largest railway shipper, the blockades have had a significant impact on our steelmaking coal business. Together with the severe weather in January, the blockades have reduced our steelmaking coal shipments by over one million tons in the first quarter of 2020."

Teck's Frontier oilsands project was planned for northern Alberta. The company pulled its application for the project on Sunday. (CBC News)

He told the investors' conference that Teck has no timeline for a possible resubmission of the project for approval and will focus on its priority projects, including a copper mine in Chile. 

A portion of his presentation also focused on the company's plans to be carbon neutral by 2050, in alignment with the goals of the federal government. 

"Teck has set out an initial roadmap to achieve carbon neutrality by first avoiding emissions and then eliminating or minimizing emissions," read one of Lindsay's presentation slides. 

Frontier becomes flashpoint

Frontier was recently thrust into the role as both saviour of the Alberta economy and death knell of Canada's climate action, depending on who was doing the talking. 

A group of Conservative MPs even linked its approval to Alberta's willingness to stay in confederation as part of their Buffalo Declaration.

That view was echoed by Kenney on Sunday night. 

Teck Resources has withdrawn the application for its new Frontier oilsands mine. The federal government was supposed to decide on the $20-billion project this week.  2:42

"The factors that led to today's decision further weaken national unity.… We did our part, but the federal government's inability to convey a clear or unified position let us, and Teck, down," Kenney said.

At the federal level, outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of driving away investment due to his "weakness and fear" in dealing with opponents of oilsands development. 

Trudeau, for his part, said Teck's decision and the reasoning behind it show support for the actions of his government. 

"Teck said clearly we support strong actions to enable the transition to a low carbon future," said Trudeau in question period on Monday. "Teck is also a strong supporter of Canada's action on climate pricing and other climate policies such as legislated caps on oilsands emissions.

"It is the Conservative Party polarizing the debate on climate change that is putting our economy at risk."

Notley urges Kenney to 'step up'

Earlier in the day, Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley blamed Kenney for making the project a "political football" and said his aggressive approach to supporting the province's oil and gas sector is to blame for the end of Frontier. 

"My message to the premier is this: yelling at other people does not create jobs, except maybe for Tom Olsen," she said, taking a shot at the chief executive officer of the Canadian Energy Centre. 

"In this case, it cost us jobs, at least 7,000. Albertans cannot afford more of this. Step up before our province gets left behind."

She said international investors are looking for strong climate strategies that offer clarity to industry. 

One of the groups impacted by the death of the project is the Fort McKay Métis, which stood to reap economic rewards and employment from the mine. It supported Teck's application. 

Fort McKay reaction

Ron Quintal, president of the Fort McKay Métis, said he was shocked when an executive vice-president of Teck called him to alert him to the news. 

"I had anticipated that perhaps the phone call was to meet in Ottawa ahead of the decision," he said. 

He's not sure what's next for his group, and said they're in "damage control mode." He acknowledged that even if Teck resubmitted the project, it could be years before anything came of it. 

"I think that there needs to be some work around policy, there needs to be some work with the federal and provincial governments to try to find a different path forward in terms of how we get our energy to market," said Quintal. 

"And from my perspective, we're not cutting the mustard at this point and something's got to give."

'Market-based decision'

Environmentalists, meanwhile, were applauding the death of the project as a win for climate change efforts. 

Julia Levin, climate and energy program manager with Environmental Defence, said the decision is the inevitable result of a shift away from fossil fuels. 

"This was a market-based decision. Teck couldn't find financial partners willing to take on a high-cost, high-emission, long-duration oilsands mine, because markets are realizing that projects like the Frontier mine are high-risk and uneconomical," she said in an emailed statement. 

"This project only offered a false promise to workers in Alberta concerned about their futures — especially in a world moving away from oil. Now is the time to invest in projects that provide jobs and create clean energy and clean growth."

The Alberta Chamber of Commerce said the loss of the project will hurt an already fragile provincial economy. 

"If approved, the Frontier project would have generated 7,000 jobs and $70 billion in tax and royalty revenue, providing a significant boost to our provincial and national economies," said a statement from the organization.

"This was an example of a project done responsibly, which was demonstrated by the strong support of all 14 nearby First Nations."

 

About the Author

Drew Anderson is a web journalist at CBC Calgary. Like almost every journalist working today, he's won a few awards. He's also a third-generation Calgarian. You can follow him on Twitter @drewpanderson. Contact him in confidence at drew.anderson@cbc.ca. Signal contact upon request. CBC Secure Drop: www.cbc.ca/securedrop/

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