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By Steve Scherer and Rod Nickel
OTTAWA/CALGARY (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday sparked concern in the country's oil patch and hope among green advocates when he named two men with strong environmental records to lead his government's fight against climate change.
Steven Guilbeault was named environment and climate change minister as part of a major Cabinet shuffle following September's vote, which handed Trudeau a third victory since 2015, albeit with a minority in the House of Commons.
Jonathan Wilkinson, who spent two decades in the green tech sector and then served as predecessor to Guilbeault for two years, took over as minister of natural resources. Canada is the world's fourth-biggest oil producer.
La Presse newspaper once dubbed Guilbeault "the green Jesus of Montreal." He has worked for green groups, including Greenpeace, for more than 20 years. In 2001 he climbed the CN Tower in Toronto to protest Canada's environmental record.
"This will be very concerning and frustrating for everyone who's part of the natural resource economy in Canada," said Heather Exner-Pirot, a fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute think tank. She spoke from Calgary, the heart of the oil patch.
"Now someone who's worked for Greenpeace ... will have significant influence on how we go forward with our resource development," she added.
Trudeau says addressing climate change is a major priority. His government already has imposed a carbon tax and has pledged net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But green groups note that per capita greenhouse gas emissions remain among the highest in the world, thanks in part to the energy industry in western Canada.
"Liberals are looking for a way to shut us down. ... Mood in Alberta is not good," said the chief executive officer of a Canadian oil and gas company who asked to speak anonymously.
Trudeau's government has promised to freeze oil sector emissions and set a 2025 requirement for the industry to reduce them. Canada has failed to meet any of its emissions-cut pledges so far.
"We need to make sure that the oil and gas industry stops increasing its emissions and starts reducing them, while supporting workers in these industries to help find new ways to work new jobs and new careers," Trudeau told reporters at a news conference following the Cabinet nominations.
"The largest energy companies in this country are committed to net zero by 2050. And the way to do that is to all of us work together," he added.
NO MORE OIL ADVOCATE IN CABINET
Guilbeault will be representing Canada at the United Nations COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, which starts on Sunday.
"If you were an oil and gas company that was banking on the government not living up to its commitments, then maybe you've got some rethinking to do," said Jamie Bonham, director of corporate engagement at NEI Investments, a responsible investor that owns shares in some oil sands companies.
Seamus O'Regan, who was well-liked by the oil and gas producers, was moved to the labor ministry from natural resources.
Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada praised making Wilkinson the new minister because in the past the natural resources figure has "acted as the chief advocate for the oil industry at the Cabinet table."
Trudeau also appointed new ministers of defense, foreign affairs and natural resources. Fewer than 10 of the 38 ministers kept their existing positions. There are two more Cabinet positions now than in 2019, and an equal number of men and women.
Liberals hold 159 seats in parliament but do not have the 170 needed to pass legislation without the support of an opposition party. Minority governments do not usually last a full four-year term in Canada.
Trudeau earlier announced that Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is also deputy prime minister, would be staying in her job.
Among the other major changes, Melanie Joly became Canada's fifth foreign minister under Trudeau. Anita Anand takes over at defense from Harjit Sajjan, who has been widely assailed over what critics say is a lackluster effort to address allegations of sexual assault in the military.
Marco Mendicino, previously immigration minister, will take over as minister of public safety.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Timothy Heritage, Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)