Will The New Canadian National Projects Review Mechanisms, Resolve Provincial & Municipal Disputes

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At the heart of the Canadian Federal Governments announcement today about fixing the process that determines if a large scale project is in the best interest of Canada or not, is a desire to limit ability Provincial, Municipal and interest groups (like ‘First Nations’) to stall approved projects.  The idea is to:

  1. increase consultation so everyone’s voice is heard
  2. set firm and visible rules for industry so that “goal posts” are not being moved after the fact
  3. determine what is in Canada’s best interest, when that interest is at odds with local interest

These are clearly admirable goals.  To achieve those goals there are now going to be three structures that industry must pass through to get Federal Government support:

  1. A new ‘Impact Assessment Agency of Canada‘ will do the preliminary investigation to determine the environmental effects of a project
  2. The existing ‘National Energy Board’ is demoted and renamed ‘Canadian Energy Regulator‘ but still be responsible for determining the technicalities of a project
  3. The ‘Federal Minister of the Environment‘ will have the final say  if a project is viable and in Canada’s interest

So now the questions are, will these changes allow:

  1. Industry to decide that spending many millions of dollars to go through an elongated approval process that will have a definitive outcome be worth while?
  2. Provincial, Municipal and interest groups (like ‘First Nations’) to be heard and listened to?

There has been much debate over the process and all agree something big had to change:

  1. When industry works on large scale projects deemed to be in the Canadian national interest after years of consultation and vetting that are still blocked by local and regional interests, there is a big problem.
  2. When interest groups (i.e. some ‘First Nations’, Municipal governments (i.e. Vancouver) local and Provincial governments (i.e. BC) feel empowered to block large scale projects that adversely affect the rest of the country, there is an even bigger problem.

Dennis McConaghy, a former senior executive at Trans Canada Pipelines thinks these changes will not achieve the desired goals:

CBC’s Peter Armstrong’s program “On The Money” provides coverage of the details in the Environment Minister Katherine McKenna announcements and points out that the local stakeholders are generally acting within the law but still block projects of Canadian National interest.  These changes, while positive, do not appear to resolve the issues.

Large scale projects like damns, highways and pipelines are never going to make everyone happy so we need an arbitrator to objectively look at the facts, decide if there is a net positive or not and then enforce the decision (either way).  Without such a situation, industry and jobs will go away and citizens will be left in a stagnant world.

It is possible to read between the lines of the Environment Ministers statements and believe that she is really saying that the Canadian Federal Government will assert its full weight and control to override localized protests should a project clear all three of the new review stages.  I understand why she does want to come out directly and say that, but I think that is what industry needs to hear and what Canadians deserve.

I think it is clear and non-partisan to say the what spurred this change was the Kinder-Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline twinning and that this project will have very little impact on those which touch it.  The logic being that Trans Mountain is simply a twinning of an existing pipeline and so nearly all of the opposition to it is rooted in the “Keep It In The Ground” mentality that will drive an environmental disaster.  In case you doubt that last statement or are just generally hostile to the notion of oil & gas, please (seriously and with an open mind) read our small article “Why ‘Keep It In The Ground’ Is A Formula For Environmental Disaster“.

The next time a hydro electric dam, a national corridor like the Trans-Canada highway, a pipeline carrying fresh water, … is proposed, we (both citizens and industry) need a clear path forward.

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