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Uproar as PM Trudeau calls for end to oil sand production

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called for Canada to phase out its oil sand production. It's not a popular message with the province of Alberta, which has benefited from having huge oil reserves.

Trudeau was responding to a question about his decision in late November to authorize an increase in the capacity of two oil pipelines in the country's west, which will increase Canada's export capacity by nearly a million barrels a day.

"We can't shut down the oil sands tomorrow. We need to phase them out," Trudeau told a town-hall meeting in Peterborough, Ontario, on Friday. "We need to manage the transition off our dependence on fossil fuels."

Canada is the world's sixth-largest oil producer.

Outraged

His comments led to outrage on social media and criticism from Alberta politicians, with provincial premier Rachel Notley saying the oil sands were "not going anywhere any time soon."

The English-speaking province has a history of disagreements with the Francophone east of the country, where the Trudeau family are from. 

Alberta opposition leader Brian Jean said the oil and gas industry provides thousands of well-paid jobs.

"If Trudeau wants to shut it down he'll have to go through me and four million Albertans first," he said.

Jason Kenney, a former federal Conservative minister and leadership candidate for Alberta's provincial Conservative party, said the oil sands represent trillions of dollars of future wealth for Canadian families.

"That's our ability to pay for pensions, health care, and infrastructure and education. It also represents hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs for working, middle-income families," Kenney said.

Ecological concerns

Environmental activists are critical of projects involving oil sands because of their economic and environmental costs. Oil locked in the subsoil of the boreal forest must be extracted by a long, polluting and energy-intensive process.

The oil is profitable only when global prices are high. Two major oil companies, Shell and Statoil, pulled out of the Canadian oil sands late last year.

Trudeau is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to meet the requirements of the UN Paris Agreement on climate change. The prime minister last year announced a national carbon tax effective in 2018.

jbh/rc (AP, AFP)

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