The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.
Perrin Beatty is president and chief executive of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
Cuts to government jobs may command the headlines, but the most significant item in the federal budget was the long-overdue decision to clean up Canada’s inefficient regulatory oversight of natural resource projects.
For the natural resource industries, last week’s budget was, very simply, the most significant policy change in decades. Canada has identified a chronic competitive weakness and is moving to fix it. At the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, where we have identified regulatory inefficiency as one of the top 10 barriers to Canadian competitiveness, we welcome this move.
Currently, a whole crowd of federal agencies is involved in assessing a project. Because Parliament has established independent processes under different statutes — the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Navigable Waters Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act, to name a few — there is little effective co-ordination. Every review must be carried out to ensure the legality of a licence. Each can require slightly different information, and proceed on different time frames.
This regulatory “scrum” frustrates both project proponents and the officials who have to administer it. Even once they have emerged with a federal permit, project proponents aren’t finished. They will likely have to duplicate the work for the provincial authority.
In a brief on the Canadian Environmental Review Act last year, the British Columbia government attacked the “inefficiencies of having two separate information registries, different public consultation requirements and two separate technical reports,” and went on to point out the environmental benefits of a second review were often non-existent: “The federal government has come to the same conclusions on all projects except for one.… ”
This approach is one reason why Canada is slipping down the list of competitive countries and why the World Economic Forum says “inefficient government bureaucracy” is our biggest problem.
In the last budget, the federal government announced it would overhaul the federal end of this chain. It’s the first, welcome step towards a new approach.
Specifically the Crown pledged to consolidate the federal reviews into one process. Reviews would have set time frames — 24 months for a full panel assessment, 18 months for a hearing before the National Energy Board.
This will doubtless be characterized as a defeat for environmentalism in Canada. I believe that’s completely wrong. Drawn-out, duplicative reviews are bad news for everyone, including the proponent with investments on hold and even for opponents, often relying on volunteers and personal donations.
For the rest of this column, please go to the National Post website: http://opinion.financialpost.com/2012/04/16/one-process-for-miners/