A rejection of the $20.6-billion Teck Frontier mine in northern Alberta would land the federal cabinet and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in "great peril," according to UCP MLA Drew Barnes.
"There have been hundreds of Albertans who have come to me and said, this is a bellwether test for Trudeau," Barnes said in an interview with CBC News. "It will be interesting to see how many and how strongly Albertans organize if Trudeau once again holds us back."
Ottawa must decide by the end of February if Teck Resources Ltd. can build the mine in northern Alberta. The company has said the mine would eventually create 7,000 jobs, but critics have raised concerns about the project's environmental impacts and its profitability.
Barnes, a member of the province's "fair deal" panel, said he has heard plenty of Albertans advocate for separation as he has travelled around the province.
"I think there are lots of them that will start to organize if they haven't already. I think a lot of them will start to talk to their family and friends about their hardship," Barnes said. "They've seen so many layers in federal interference, while the rest of the world is producing more oil and using more oil."
Sources familiar with the matter told Reuters earlier this week the federal government is preparing an aid package for Alberta that would help dull the pain if the Teck mine is ultimately rejected.
Such an aid package would do little to quell the frustrations of Albertans, Barnes said.
"I'm not in favour of any gratuitous little handouts that are meant to slightly appease us for Trudeau not being able to make the right decision," he said. "Having said that, if we're entitled to some money back, Trudeau, don't dare slow that down either."
When asked whether he was personally in favour of separation, Barnes sidestepped, saying he believes that Alberta should be the "freest, richest place in North America."
"There are so many good things about living in Alberta. It's hard when so many of my friends and family are suffering," he said. "At this point, I'll say, let's work it out with our Canadian partners."
While not explicitly threatening separation from Canada, the province's "fair deal" panel has advocated for ways it says the province can advance the province's economic interests.
The proposals being studied include the creation of an Alberta pension plan, a provincial police force, a tax collection agency and more.