[ST. JOHN'S, NF] – Federal Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver wants to see the regulatory process "streamlined" for major projects.
"Major projects in Canada are subject to long and potentially endless delays because of needlessly complex and duplicate regulatory systems. This is costing Canadians good, well-paying jobs and jeopardizing the economic viability of (the) projects," he said, addressing the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association (NOIA) in St. John's Thursday.
"That's why our government is taking responsibility for modernizing our regulatory system. I'm confident we can achieve a regulatory system that does its job to protect Canadians and the environment, but at the same time supports Canadian competitive advantage," he says.
He calls the current process of bringing a project from proposal to construction a "tangled web" businesses have no choice but to navigate – one developed through decades of uncoordinated changes to the system at the provincial and federal levels.
Oliver says government can shorten the process by reducing duplication in pre-project reviews.
"We can do these things without compromising environmental standards," he says.
He promoted Canadians using facts to face down opposition to projects from "celebrity environmentalists with naive ideology."
The Harper government has already taken steps to speed up pre-project reviews. In 2008, the Major Projects Management Office was created as a one-stop for federal regulatory work, 2009 brought steps to simplify the approval process for infrastructure projects and, in 2010, changes were made to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
"To achieve the fundamental modernization, we now have to make system-wide changes," Oliver says.
He also made note of several multibillion-dollar projects on the table for this province. He says the report of the Hebron Public Review Commissioner regarding benefits from that offshore oil development, released pulblicly at the end of February, is under review with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB).
"Once the board has completed its assessment, our government and our provincial counterparts have 30 days to review the board's decision," he says.
He also talked about the Muskrat Falls project.
"The Lower Churchill hydroelectric generation projects offer the potential of massive economic and environmental benefits."
Following his address, Oliver reiterated federal support for the Muskrat Falls development, but didn't commit to a date for the federal loan guarantee to be in place. Asked about the loan guarantee, he said, "It's quite complex, but you know we're there and that's definitive."
Also raised with the minister was the question of whether or not the federal government was working to see the creation of an independent offshore safety board. In his address to NOIA, the minister included an endorsement of the current capabilities of the CNLOPB.
"The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board provides the strong, independent regulation we need to ensure Canada's standards always meet that test," he said.
Oliver was scheduled to meet with Premier Kathy Dunderdale later in the day. The creation of an independent offshore safety board and the Muskrat Falls loan guarantee were expected to be discussed.
The response to Oliver at the NOIA event was positive.
"We're really pleased to see the Government of Canada focused on streamlining regulation, the regulatory regime," says Robert Cadigan, president and CEO of NOIA.
He applauds federal efforts to lower regulatory hurdles.
Nalcor Energy vice-president Jim Keating says major projects across the country and across industries are facing common challenges in getting projects up and running. He says the right changes can shorten the pre-project period without having standards slip.
"You can be thorough in two years. You can be thorough in four months," he says. And, "the continued support for Muskrat Falls is great to hear.