The current Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline debacle agonizingly demonstrates that even medium scale infrastructure projects are easily stalemated in Canada. This has scared away vast sums of foreign direct investment as investors look for easier, more reliable places to put their money.
This is a crisis and it appears that the Trudeau Federal Government is taking it seriously. Prime Minister Trudeau announced yesterday that his government would be introducing legislation to ensure this pipeline is constructed in a timely fashion. While that is definitely a good thing for Canada, Alberta, BC and the environment, it does make us think about the old adage, “Never waist a good crisis”.
In this case, we think the Trans Mountain pipeline is a symptom of the crisis and we hope the Federal Government is thinking long term to resolve the root cause of the problem. Well intentioned legal changes in recent decades that provided more consultation with affected groups in an effort to produce better outcomes, have given full voice and expression to:
- the terminally unhappy
- professional protesters
- small but vocal interest groups
The result is that few interprovincial infrastructure project have been completed in Canada in recent decades.
The solution is something we are calling “The National Infrastructure Act”. Such an act would not only get us past the Trans Mountain debacle but also send a signal to global investors the Canada can complete large projects.
It is critical that such a law not trample on the rights of Provinces, Municipalities and legitimate stake holders. If that were to happen the process would lose legitimacy and become ineffectual. It might even tear at the fabric of Canadian Confederation.
So, what specifically can the Federal Government do ensure voices are heard, appropriate changes are made, but projects are approved (or not!) in a reasonable amount of time? We think that each Province involved be required to convene a “Provincial Approval Recommendation Board” or “PAR Board” with the following parameters:
- Each “PAR Board” would be a SMALL group with ombudsman / arbitrator type powers to determine which complaints/suggestions/recommendations have merit and which ones do not
- Most importantly, that board would be able so submit no more than
<insert reasonable number here>of these to the the Federal agency in charge
- We think that ‘reasonable number’ would be about 100
- This board would have a maximum of 6 months to make their submission
- The Federal agency involved would have a maximum of 6 months to respond to those complaints/suggestions/recommendations
The National Infrastructure Act would also reaffirm that existing Federal agencies that currently approve multi-province projects have the FINAL say on what is in the national interest.
This new law with its required “Provincial Approval Recommendation Boards” would provide both accountability and credibility that most Canadians can live with. To be clear, we know that no-one wants to live near high tension power wires, or major highways, or railways, or water pipelines or… but we need some of these critical infrastructure pieces to keep us living in the first world.