CALGARY - Canada's Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver says he expects legislation to be introduced this year as a way of streamlining the regulatory process and preventing excessive delays on major energy projects.
Oliver made his comments in a speech Wednesday afternoon to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce as lengthy public hearings continue on the Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to northwestern British Columbia.
Enbridge (TSX:ENB) wants to build a 1,170-kilometre twin pipeline that would carry oilsands bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C., where huge tanker ships would transport it to Asia.
Public hearings into the proposed $5.5-billion pipeline got underway in Alberta this past week. More than 4,000 individuals have signed up to speak about the project in hearings across Alberta and B.C. over the next 18 months.
"One wild card remains — an unpredictable, often increasingly lengthy and needlessly complex regulatory process. Bad processes do not produce good environmental outcomes," Oliver said in his half-hour speech.
"There is risk of abuse. The prime minister used the term hijacked by those who oppose the development of hydrocarbons on purely ideological grounds," he added.
Oliver told reporters that he wants changes made in a timely fashion and it will require legislation.
Oliver said he intends to have the changes in place before the Northern Gateway process is finished. He said there are reviews going on all the time and if the government waited until all were completed, none would ever get done.
The minister said the important thing is to have a set timeline on how long the review process can take.
"We need to make sure that the regulatory process occurs within a defined and limited timeframe so they don't go on forever. Mackenzie Valley pipeline project took nine years to be approved. This is excessive, so that's one of the issues we're going to be looking at."
At an earlier event in Calgary, Oliver made it clear that the government would not intervene in the Northern Gateway process, but was optimistic that aboriginal leaders would eventually come to support the pipeline.
Oliver said he had the opportunity to discuss the project with aboriginal leaders at the First Nations summit in Ottawa, including a number of chiefs from British Columbia.
"It's always been my hope and continues to be that this pipeline would address issues that will create economic activity that will be beneficial," said Oliver.
"We believe the aboriginal communities and First Nations can benefit in a transformative way from some of these developments. There's money on the table, there's equity participation and there's jobs, so it's our hope to continue to have a dialogue with the First Nations and see whether we together can achieve our objectives.
"We have a moral and constitutional obligation to consult and accommodate and we of course will do that."
Oliver said the government believes the oilsands will generate $3.3 trillion in economic activity over the next 25 years and hundreds of billions of dollars that governments can use to support social programs such as housing, education and pensions.
Environmental, aboriginal and social action groups say the risks of a pipeline rupture or oil tanker spill are too great. Not only would the pipeline cross mountain ranges, rivers and streams, it would fill more than 200 tankers a year that would have to navigate the treacherous waters of the Douglas Channel before reaching open sea.