A regulatory burden lifted but opposition remains – by Gary Mason (Globe and Mail – April 19, 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.

Governing is so much more fun with a majority, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper reminds us every day. Opposition parties can yell and scream all they want, but the Conservatives don’t have to listen. They can kill the long-gun registry and bring in an omnibus crime bill and simply plug their ears when Liberals and New Democrats get up in the House of Commons to complain.

The latest move by the federal government to upset the Opposition is a plan to streamline – some would say neuter – the environmental assessment process. The Conservatives have been telegraphing this one for a while.

Mr. Harper has staked the economic future of the country on the resource riches of The West, and why not? In particular, the Prime Minister is focused on helping Alberta get its crude to market as quickly as possible. Future federal budget surpluses depend on it.

In the Prime Minister’s home province of Alberta, they still talk about the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline project, which ultimately died, in part because of a burdensome regulatory assessment process that dragged on for years. Mr. Harper wants to ensure that when it comes to the oil sands, Canada is able to strike while the oil market is hot.

Of course, any move to reduce federal oversight of natural resource projects was bound to cause trouble. Environmental groups are already accusing the Conservatives of selling out to Big Oil and rolling the dice on environmental stewardship. The Conservatives don’t care. They’re too busy remaking the country in their own image.

The fact is there is much about the new policy that makes sense. There is unnecessary overlap between the provinces and Ottawa when it comes to the assessment process. There’s no reason why so many projects need to go through a two-step procedure, in which proponents are asked many of the same questions by separate groups of environmental officials.

The Conservatives’ proposal will eliminate much of that duplication and also exempt smaller projects that pose little or no environmental risk from the review rules entirely.

Environmental groups, meantime, are upset that the changes will infringe on their ability to speak before federal review panels. The proposed legislation cuts them out of the process unless they can prove they are directly affected by the proposal in question or have a specific expertise related to it.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/opinion/a-regulatory-burden-lifted-but-opposition-remains/article2406869/