There’s a certain irony in the fact that federal Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver started 2012 with an outrageous attack on people who oppose the Enbridge pipeline when Time Magazine named the “protester” as the “person of the year” for 2011.
I’m still not sure what the federal Conservatives hoped to gain from labelling legitimate protests against the Enbridge project “radical anti-development ideology.” Hopefully the significant backlash against the government’s attempted interference with the National Energy Board hearings on this pipeline will make it think twice about continuing this nonsensical and dishonourable tactic. However, the U.S. rejection of the Keystone pipeline will now put more pressure on the Canadian government to find a way to get tar sands bitumen to China. It’s likely the Harper government will pull out all stops to ensure it can approve one or both of these pipelines. Which begs the question of what is the legitimate role for government in approving major development projects — projects that may provide short-term economic benefits while posing serious and generational risks to our health and safety and the environment. It certainly shouldn’t be to presuppose the outcome, or worse, to engineer a positive outcome.
Simply put, the government’s role should be to ensure that a process is put in place to ensure that all of the public concerns are heard and addressed, not to be a promoter for the private sector proponent and its shareholders. That’s why we should all be concerned that both the provincial and federal governments are talking about “streamlining” the regulatory process to make it easier to approve major projects. “Streamlining” the regulatory process to try and get to a yes faster won’t work for two reasons: 1) weakened regulations and weak public process will simply bog these projects down in the courts; and 2) it does not address the unresolved issue of First Nations rights and title.
Bob Simpson is the Independent MLA for Cariboo North.