VANCOUVER - British Columbia is moving applications for natural resource permits online, as Premier Christy Clark attempts to bolster her economic credentials ahead of this May's provincial election.
Clark has spent the past year talking up her jobs plan, which includes a goal to see expansion at eight mines and the creation of nine new mining projects.
She announced on Monday that the province will be switching to online applications for natural resource projects requiring government authorization, beginning next month.
Clark said the move will make the permitting process faster and ensure companies know quickly whether or not their projects are approved.
"We know that when we require you to get a permit, we're doing the right thing for the province, because we have an obligation to protect the public interest," Clark told delegates at a mining conference in Vancouver.
"But we also know that when we hold you up through unnecessary delays because your permit just couldn't get looked at quickly enough, we're holding up the creation of jobs and we're making it difficult for British Columbians to get to work."
The online system will start with notice of work applications, with more added throughout 2013, a government news release said.
Clark also announced $7 million in funding to help speed up the permitting process for water, land and mining exploration projects.
The premier boasted that the province has cut permitting backlogs, though the reality is that the current wait for notice-of-work applications is actually higher than the government's own publicly stated goal.
Last year, government news releases included a goal that the turnaround time for notice-of-work applications would drop to 60 days, down from 110, by August 2012.
Figures provided by the premier's office on Monday indicate the average wait for the applications is now at 80 days — 30 per cent higher than a target that was supposed to have been met five months ago.
The Opposition New Democrats were quick to use Clark's mining speech to criticize the Liberals, accusing the government of allowing permitting delays to more than double compared with 2007. The NDP said the average wait for mining permits in 2007 was just 55 days.
"They keep putting Band-Aids on the problem, but so far they have yet to undo the damage," the party's mining critic, Doug Donaldson, said in a news release.
Donaldson conceded that the announcements on Monday — the online permitting system and the $7 million to speed up permitting — could help the problem.
However he said he still wouldn't let the Liberals off the hook for letting permitting backlogs become so long in the first place.
The next provincial election is set for May 14.