Little-known federal office to oversee natural resource projects secretive, heavy-handed: NDP – by Jason Fekete (Calagary Herald – January 26, 2014)

OTTAWA — A little-known federal office of barely two dozen people is charged with overseeing $230 billion worth of proposed natural resource projects across Canada and helping get aboriginal groups onside, but it’s facing criticism of being too heavy-handed and secretive.

The Major Projects Management Office is responsible for overarching management of federal environmental and regulatory reviews of what are currently 76 projects representing approximately $231 billion in potential new resource development investment across Canada.

The MPMO also organizes Ottawa’s broader consultation with Aboriginal Peoples on these major projects, including the Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline that has been conditionally approved by a National Energy Board panel and is currently under review by the Conservative government.

Yet, this small but critically important office — it has approximately 25 staff — continues to function with a very low profile within Natural Resources Canada. The official Opposition NDP says the MPMO, like the Prime Minister’s Office, is too secretive and is trying to force through projects without sufficient consultation.

Officials with the MPMO are currently in Vancouver co-ordinating efforts to meet with aboriginal groups in February and March for their feedback on the NEB panel’s conditional approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would ship oilsands crude from Alberta to the port of Kitimat, B.C.

Jim Clarke, MPMO’s director general of operations, said it’s critical for government to get people on the ground early to engage in regular and ongoing consultation with aboriginals.

He acknowledges, however, there remain challenges in getting some aboriginal groups on board with major resource projects like Northern Gateway.

“It’s a difficult situation because some (aboriginal) groups will be interested in development and others may not be,” Clarke said in an interview from Vancouver.

“The bottom line from the government perspective is to make best efforts for meaningful engagement and consultation, fulfil our duty to consult and accommodate.”

Nearly every major energy and mining project on the books falls within the MPMO’s regulatory and review purview, including the contentious Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline to the West Coast, the Lower Churchill hydroelectricity project in Labrador, New Prosperity gold mine project in British Columbia and the Jackpine oilsands mine expansion in Alberta.

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