Calgary

Federal government readies aid for Alberta as deadline for massive oilsands project nears: sources

The federal government is preparing an aid package for Alberta, heart of the country's struggling oil industry, that would help dull the pain if it blocks the Teck Frontier oilsands project that could create thousands of jobs.

Ottawa must decide by the end of February if Teck Resources Ltd can build the Frontier mine

A mining shovel fills a haul vehicle at the Shell Albian Sands oilsands mine near Fort McMurray, Alta. in 2008. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The federal government is preparing an aid package for Alberta, heart of the country's struggling oil industry, that would help dull the pain if it blocks the Teck Frontier oilsands project that could create thousands of jobs, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters this week.

Ottawa must decide by end-February if Teck Resources Ltd can build the $20.6 billion Frontier mine in northern Alberta despite climate and wildlife concerns.

The decision is a major test of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's 2019 election pledge to put Canada on the path to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Complicating the decision, unhappiness with the government's energy and pipeline policy cost Trudeau's Liberals all their Alberta seats in October 2019 elections.

"There will be a big fight inside cabinet over this," said one source directly familiar the matter who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.

Nenshi on Power & Politics

2 years ago
7:34
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi talks about the Teck Frontier mine project proposal. 7:34

"Rejecting Teck without providing Alberta something in return would be political suicide," the source added.

In Alberta, the project is considered essential for employment and growth. Teck says it would eventually create 7,000 jobs, although the company's chief executive recently questioned whether it will ever be built.

About 20 oilsands projects currently sit dormant despite receiving approval.

Opponents of the Frontier mine project say it will damage wetlands and be harmful to Indigenous communities. (Julie Prejet/CBC)

Options being considered in the aid package, to be featured in the upcoming budget, include a cash injection to help clean up thousands of inactive oil and gas wells abandoned by bankrupt companies, five sources with knowledge of the situation said.

The move would help create jobs. But it would also require Alberta's government "to close the loopholes" that have allowed companies to shed their responsibilities for the clean-up, one of the sources said.

Also under discussion is expanding the federal fiscal stabilization program that helps provinces deal with economic downturns, a measure Alberta's Premier Jason Kenney has demanded. Local infrastructure projects could also be in the mix, the source said.

"Teck is not a political gift — it deserves to be approved on its merits," Kenney spokeswoman Christine Myatt said in a statement to Reuters.

"We do not view a decision on Frontier as something to be traded away."

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has urged the federal government to swiftly approve the Teck oilsands mine. (Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press)

All five sources said while Trudeau was particularly concerned about national unity, given strains with Alberta, he has not made his position known.

Both Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who has the job of repairing relations with the province, and Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan are widely believed to be tilting towards approving the project, while many other cabinet members remain undecided.

Freeland's office did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for O'Regan declined to say how the minister felt about the project.

"This is a cabinet decision that will be taken in due course," Trudeau spokesman Cameron Ahmad said when asked about the internal debate.

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