It would appear that in Quebec a high-carbon-emitting cement plant does not need an environmental review while in Alberta the expansion plans for a coal mine do.
Also, if you’re in Alberta the Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the guy that makes the final decisions, doesn’t mind telling you prior to your federal review that your plans don’t fit his commitments.
Whereas in Quebec the implicit message is somewhat different, at least judging by the very different standards applied to expansion of the Coalspur thermal coal mine in Hinton, Alta. and the Port-Daniel-Gascons plant in Quebec.
When it comes to the Hinton mine, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change said the expansions would cause unacceptable environmental effects within federal jurisdiction.
Apparently, the projects would hinder our international commitment to climate change, although apparently they would not have in 2019 when the same Minister Jonathan Wilkinson decided a federal assessment was not needed.
It’s especially discouraging because the original business plan for this coal mine included the proposed expansion plans. And partly on that basis Coalspur has invested huge amounts of money, private not taxpayer, and now employs around 300 people directly and has been shipping coal since 2019.
By contrast this relatively new $1.45 billion Port-Daniel-Gascons cement plant was built with a lot of taxpayer money and will be the largest single greenhouse-gas emitter in that province, at 1.8 million tonnes, partly because its furnaces are powered by petroleum coke that Greenpeace calls more polluting than coal.
Yet for some reason it basically wasn’t required to undergo environmental review board hearings. Perhaps 200 jobs in the Gaspe Region count more than 300 out in Alberta.
In addition to being roughly similar in size and employment, the two projects share one more important feature. Both have been in the works for years if planning and construction are considered. So there was plenty of time to think about both, including making sure they received similar regulatory treatment. But they didn’t.
The message to international investors is that projects outside Quebec, especially if they’re in the West, are only ever approved tentatively, subject to the whims of the government. But projects in Quebec are good to go.
You might say the difference is that the Federal Government hates fossils fuels and Quebec doesn’t have any coal mines. But cement emits a lot of so-called greenhouse gases. The real difference is that Quebec also emits lots of Liberal votes.
It’s decisions like this one that are fuelling recent provincial polls showing strong support for Alberta’s separatist Wildrose Party. Ottawa really should take note, and put fairness first.