EDMONTON — Alberta's Indigenous relations minister says a last-minute war of words with a First Nations leader over a multibillion-dollar oilsands mine is a case of bare-knuckle bargaining.
Rick Wilson says he hopes the spat with Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam doesn't hurt a federal decision on whether to green light the $20.6-billion Teck Resources Frontier project in northern Alberta.
"He (Adam) is a negotiator. He sees a spot where maybe he could get a little extra cash for his First Nation. Can't blame a guy for that," Wilson said in an interview Wednesday.
"Not everybody is going to agree to everything .... We all have to have some differences. And Chief Allan is not opposed to the (Teck) project."
Wilson said there is "a little bit" of a concern that the public disagreement could give the federal government a reason to reject the oilsands project.
"But what I heard from (Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller) this morning, and so many other people I've talked to at the federal level, they understand that these are negotiations and that Teck has done 10 years of consultations."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government has until the end of the month to make its decision.
Athabasca Chipewyan is one of 14 First Nations and Metis communities that have signed participation agreements on the Teck mine.
But in public letters sent last week to the federal government and to other chiefs, Adam said he's worried that Alberta's failure to consult and take meaningful action on environmental concerns — ranging from caribou habitat to water issues — could jeopardize the project.
Adam also raised money: "If the government of Alberta is serious about getting Indigenous communities on board with major industrial projects, it should provide a share of the realized tax revenue from each project."
Wilson, as well as Environment Minister Jason Nixon, have said there have been extensive discussions with Adam about his environmental concerns.
Adam could not be reached for comment Wednesday ahead of a scheduled meeting with Premier Jason Kenney, Wilson and other First Nations chiefs at Government House in Edmonton to discuss unrelated issues.
Wilson said he expected the letters would come up. "We're going to have to address the elephant in the room."
Kenney has been raising the political stakes of late on Teck Frontier. He has said there is no reason for Ottawa to reject the mine, since it has passed a provincial-federal regulatory review.
The project would create an estimated 7,000 construction jobs, 2,500 operating jobs and about $12 billion in federal income and capital taxes.
In a letter sent to Trudeau last week, Kenney said saying no to Teck at this point "would send a chilling signal regarding federal intentions on all future oilsands or natural resource development projects."
Alberta Opposition Leader Rachel Notley told a news conference that Adam's letters show Kenney's United Conservative government have failed to deal in good faith with the Athabasca Cree.
"If this project does ultimately end up being in jeopardy, the majority of blame can be laid squarely at the feet of Jason Kenney and the UCP for engaging in an arrogant, disrespectful and frankly sloppy failure to do their job," said Notley.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2020
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press