The Current

Teck quitting Frontier oilsands mine a failure of federal leadership: ex-B.C. premier Christy Clark

Former B.C. Premier Christy Clark says a failure of federal leadership led to Teck Resource’s decision to walk away from the $20bn oilsands mine — but not everyone agrees.

Instability comes from indecision over growing jobs and cutting emissions, says Clark

Christy Clark was Liberal premier of B.C. from 2011 to 2017. (Canadian Press)
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Former B.C. Premier Christy Clark says that a failure of federal leadership led to Teck Resource Ltd.'s decision to walk away from building the $20-billion Tech Frontier oilsands mine in Alberta.

"They can't seem to figure out if they're on the side of of growing the economy and middle class jobs, or if they're on the side of trying to stop all emissions from Canada," said Clark, who was Liberal premier of the western province from 2011 to 2017. She is now a senior advisor at the law firm Bennett Jones.

"It really just means that there's a lot of instability, and nobody wants to invest when they don't know what the risk is going to be," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.

The federal government was due to decide this week whether the $20.6-billion, 260,000-barrel-per-day (39.7 million litres) mine could go ahead, but the Vancouver-based company withdrew its application in a surprise move Sunday. The company had estimated the mine would have created 7,000 construction jobs, and 2,500 operating jobs.

In an open letter about the decision, Teck CEO Don Lindsay cited the ongoing debate over climate policy in Canada.

A mining shovel fills a haul vehicle at the Shell Albian Sands oilsands mine near Fort McMurray, Alta. The Frontier oilsands mine would have been located between Fort McMurray and Fort Chipewyan (The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh)

"Unfortunately, the growing debate around this issue has placed Frontier and our company squarely at the nexus of much broader issues that need to be resolved. In that context, it is now evident that there is no constructive path forward for the project," he wrote.

Clark said it was the "wrong debate" to try to choose between protecting the environment and promoting jobs and growth at home. She argued that resource development in Canada could also help the environment on a global scale — because it would be produced alongside efforts to minimise emissions. 

"What Teck would be offering the world with the Frontier project would be a whole heck of a lot better for the world, in displacing coal and dirty forms of energy in Asia," she said. 

"Yes, it would raise emissions profiles in Canada, but overall, around the world, around the globe — which is what we really should be thinking about — it would really have a big impact in lowering that." 

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

Decision to withdraw was 'market-based'

Julia Levin, the climate and energy program manager for Environmental Defence, agreed that there is a lack of cohesion in the approach to fighting climate change at the provincial and federal level.

"It's bad for Canadians, it's bad for the environment, and it's bad for the economy," she told Galloway.

Chris Hall says the bigger question now is about Canada's investment climate after a  major resource project is called off.    6:06

But she said Teck's decision was primarily a market-based one, because "investors are just no longer willing to place their money into these expensive and high-carbon projects that are incompatible with climate action."

She disagreed with Christy's assertion, arguing that Canada has "spent years trying to both grow our fossil fuel sector, and also lead on climate, and those things are incompatible." 

"But it's not incompatible to have a thriving economy and a healthy climate," she said.

"We just need to manage a transition into a low carbon economy." 

She said Canadian businesses, and the public, needed a "climate test" to bring clarity to how decisions about resource extractions are made.

The projected emissions of a project could be judged against Canada's climate targets, in the wider context of other projects, she explained.

"We map out that pathway, and then when we have project decisions, we know from the onset whether these are compatible with our climate goals," she said. 

"And whether they're economically viable in the world that actually does limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees."


Written by Padraig Moran, with files from CBC News. Produced by Idella Sturino, Matt Meuse and Ines Colabrese.

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