Canada’s new climate minister makes global debut, and faces momentous decision on oil sands – by Eric Reguly (Globe and Mail – December 12, 2019)

Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s new Environment and Climate Change Minister, points out that he has been on the job only three weeks. Translation: Cut me some slack, please, I don’t have all the answers.

But he’ll have to learn quickly. At the end of February, he has to decide whether to approve Teck Resources Ltd.’s enormous Frontier oil sands project or refer it to the wider Liberal cabinet. Either way, it will be a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t moment that will be instrumental in defining the federal government’s carbon-reduction trajectory and its relationship with Alberta.

If the project is approved, as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney so desperately wants, Canada’s plan to transition to a low-carbon economy, then to a “net zero” emissions economy by 2050, might go from the difficult to the virtually impossible without miracle technology or shipping fortunes overseas to buy carbon credits. Turning down the project would ignite a war with Alberta.

Mr. Kenney is, in effect, pitching Ottawa’s options on Frontier as the environment versus Canadian unity. Alienation in Alberta and Saskatchewan, which say federal policies hurt their oil and gas sectors, has become a focus since the Liberals were shut out of the two provinces in the October election.

The question is how much weight the federal government will put on the project’s environmental impact, notably its greenhouse gas emissions in an era of “climate crisis” – in Mr. Wilkinson’s words.

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