Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson recently linked the approval of Teck Resources’ Frontier oilsands mine to Alberta’s withdrawal of its court challenge of the federal carbon tax — essentially holding the project hostage to political negotiation.
The federal cabinet probably should not have power of approval over a project that is wholly within Alberta and subject to Alberta’s climate policy, which includes both limits on oilsands emissions and a carbon price for large emitters.
But, given that it is, approval should be granted or not on its merits as assessed by the expert regulatory review, not as part of a strategy to strong-arm a province to fall in line with federal policy demands in an area of shared jurisdiction.
Linking a project’s approval to policy negotiations with the government of Alberta sends two signals the federal government may wish to rethink. First, other provinces get the message that if they challenge federal intrusion into provincial jurisdiction, they will be punished, too.
Whether or not that’s a message Ottawa intends, it will create a chill in federal-provincial relations across the country that even Intergovernmental Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland can’t thaw.