Getting to Yes has never been tougher – by Jeffrey Simpson (Globe and Mail – February 27, 2015)

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.

Mines and forest projects can face the same procedural snakes and ladders.
In Northern Ontario, the so-called Ring of Fire chromite deposits will be
tied up for years and years in environment reviews and aboriginal demands.
Already, the major U.S. company interested in developing the deposits has
walked away. Who could blame it? (Jeffrey Simpson – Globe and Mail)

Forget for a moment U.S. President Barack Obama’s doubts about the Keystone XL pipeline. Whether the President decides for or against the project shouldn’t deflect Canadians from asking within their own borders: How do we get to Yes?

Getting to Yes is becoming harder all the time. Fossil-fuel developments, pipelines, mines, dams, hydro-electric transmission lines and wind turbines are frequently contested, delayed or blocked.

Even when they’re approved, the process for getting to Yes can take so long that projects lose their economic rationale, as with the now-abandoned Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline, which shuddered to a halt after 10 years of review because the gas market had changed. Or, projects are postponed or killed because they face tough competition from overseas suppliers where approvals are not so protracted. Proposed liquefied natural gas projects in British Columbia face this very risk.

Environmental reviews, National Energy Board hearings, provincial regulatory board procedures – the regulatory institutions of governments – don’t seem satisfactory, let alone definitive, to certain groups that flat-out oppose certain developments. They accuse those conducting the review of being biased, of the terms of reference being too narrow, of the process being hurried.

“We were not consulted” is a familiar refrain. This complaint might sometimes be justified. Other times – one might say often – the complaint is simply cover for “We don’t want the project.”

Put another way, nobody knows with precision how much consultation is enough. The oft-repeated phrase “social licence” is vague to the point of incomprehensibility, but critics take it to mean that they must approve, because they equate themselves with the general public.

When aboriginal groups get involved, and they frequently do, “consultation” takes on another, more complicated meaning, courtesy of recent Supreme Court of Canada rulings. Aboriginals often assume that “consultation” with them must produce their consent, which, in certain circumstances, it now does.

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