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You would think that Joe Oliver would be used to the media glare by now, but a little more than a year into the job as the minister of natural resources, he is still amazed to see his department get such intense press attention.
“It is interesting how much in the public eye all this is – it’s nothing to do with the colour of my tie, but it’s important for the country,” he said on the sidelines of a press conference this week that saw media folk crammed in the offices of Canaccord Genuity in downtown Toronto to listen to the minister speak. Despite the acres of media space dedicated to energy issues, the former investment banker is finding it tough to get many Canadians on his side.
Many energy projects Ottawa is trying to push face fierce opposition. The Alberta oil sands development is derided not only by environmentalists and many aboriginal groups but even provinces like British Columbia and Ontario. The two key pipeline projects – Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway and TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL – are bogged down in regulatory and environmental red tape. And the federal government’s efforts to improve environmental standards have been dismissed by critics as weak and insufficient.
Which is why Mr. Oliver feels he needs to manage the narrative. The minister’s latest media conference dwelled on the economic importance of the natural resources sector, which he estimates now accounts for 20% of the country’s GDP, and 10% of its workforce. The government seems keen to get the message out that the sector is creating jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars in revenues for critical social programs.
Mr. Oliver spoke to Yadullah Hussain, FP energy editor, on the boundless opportunities in the energy sector, but also the dangers of missing out on those prospects. Here are excerpts from the interview:
Q Enbridge’s Northern Gateway hearings began on Wednesday. Is there a plan B for the federal government to get crude to the market if the project fails to get approval?
A We have so much in reserves that we believe we should be exploring not only going south and west but also east and, possibly, north. Enbridge is one proposal in the regulatory review and there is another one going west (Kinder Morgan’s Transmountain pipeline), apart from liquefied natural gas projects. We are now seeing, almost on a weekly basis, new ideas emerging. We hear about (publisher David) Black’s idea about a refinery (in British Columbia), and there is interest by Irving refinery in New Brunswick to use some of its capacity or even increase capacity.
For the rest of this interview, please go to the National Post website: http://www.financialpost.com/todays-paper/Oliver+warns+missed+opportunity/7203714/story.html