Ottawa betting on the West for economic prosperity – by Adam Radwanski (Globe and Mail – March 30, 2012)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

OTTAWA — With an increased focus on the resource sector that fits neatly with its efforts to shrink Ottawa’s footprint, the federal government is accelerating the westward shift of economic opportunity – at least for now.

Federal officials insisted on Thursday that helping mining and other developments by reducing the regulatory burden will have nationwide benefits – and will ultimately help Ontario rebuild its struggling economy. But in the short term, it’s oil-rich Alberta, and to a significant extent neighbouring British Columbia and Saskatchewan as well, that are celebrating.

Swift and positive responses from the Western provinces reflected that reality, with Alberta Premier Alison Redford taking a break from campaigning to enthuse that there’s “much good news” in the budget that will make her province even more competitive, and B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon saying it “struck the balance between some modest spending discipline without going overboard.”

Reaction in Central and Eastern Canada was much more guarded. Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan did not address the resource policies directly, instead directing criticism toward what he called “weak-kneed” attempts at pension reforms. While voicing several complaints on other fronts, Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand acknowledged that streamlining regulations could be “excellent” news for his province’s major resource projects – but added that his province wants to take a closer look to ensure proper environmental protections will be maintained.

In the months leading up to the budget, there was evidence that relations were fraying between Ottawa and some of the provinces, with warnings from Mr. Flaherty that economically strained provinces had to get their fiscal houses in order. And that same tension was evident in discussions over health care – with some regions, including Central and Eastern Canada, arguing they would suffer under the weight of their changing demographics

But beyond any desire to pick regional winners and losers, Stephen Harper seems convinced that resource development is the surest path to a brighter economic future for the country as a whole.

To make it quicker and easier for resource-development projects to get off the ground (or into it), the budget vows that all regulatory reviews will take no longer than two years to complete.

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