Pipeline reviews to include environmental regulations, First Nations consultations
The Liberal government says it is “modernizing” the way Canada reviews pipelines and other resource projects, in a revamped process that considers future greenhouse gas emissions.
The new review process seeks to promote public transparency and provides funding for First Nations consultations.
The Wednesday announcement was described as a “transition step” before the Liberals establish a permanent set of rules.
The interim plan immediately applies to two highly divisive pipeline proposals –- the TransMountain pipeline in B.C. and the Energy East pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick -- and extends the government’s deadline to decide the projects’ fates by several months.
The Liberals are touting the changes as a step towards transparency and environmentally conscious policy. But Conservative opponents say that key questions on economic impact -- especially for hard-hit Alberta -- remain unanswered.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley on February 3.
CTV News has learned that Trudeau will discuss a financial stimulus package tailored specifically for Alberta to help those who have lost their jobs. The province lost 19,600 jobs in 2015 -- its worst year for unemployment since 1982.
McKenna: 'No magic formula'
Speaking alongside Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said the new process allows the public to better understand projects and voice concerns.
“Greenhouse gas emissions for all these projects should be made public. Canadians should know all these numbers,” Carr said at a Wednesday press conference in Ottawa. “Without the confidence of Canadians, none of these projects will move forward.”
It remains unclear exactly how much weight the government will give to environmental impact when stacked against other factors, such as the economy or social impacts.
“There’s no magic formula,” McKenna said. “It’s looking at the economic, environmental and social impacts and then a decision is made of what is in the public interest.”
NDP MP Nathan Cullen called for “a lot more clarity” on the review process so that companies can better understand how to pitch a resource-related project.
“Climate change is a factor -- is it 1 per cent of the factor, is it half?” Cullen told CTV’s Power Play. “It still feels like a subjective test.”
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May called the revamped reviews “an attempt to fix an unfixable process.”
The government won’t send current pipeline proposals back to square one, but they are adding additional review time to the consideration process.
The changes effectively push back the government’s pending decision on Kinder Morgan's TransMountain twinning project another four months to December 2016.
TransCanada's Energy East project has been given an additional six months for its review period, pushing the decision to mid-2018 at the earliest. In addition, three temporary members will be added to the National Energy Board to provide greater public consolation.
“I’m looking for a process that has the confidence of Canadians. That’s why we’re going to take more time,” Carr said.
A ministerial adviser will be appointed by the government to consult with First Nations communities that live along the pipeline routes. The adviser effectively creates a secondary review process alongside the National Energy Board review.
In the end, Carr says the cabinet will have final say on whether the pipelines are approved or denied.
TransCanada spokesperson Mark Cooper said the company is approaching the news with caution.
"We support a strong and clear regulatory framework that helps Canadians see our commitment to building and operating oil and gas pipelines in the safest and most environmentally sound way possible," he said in a statement to The Canadian Press.
"TransCanada operates in a highly regulated industry. We will continue to work with all levels of government and our regulators to ensure the continued safe and environmentally sound transportation of our natural resources to market."
Fast: A 'terrible signal to the world'
Criticism for the Liberals’ handling of the pipeline file was swift. Even before the new review process was announced, Alberta Conservative MP Rachael Harder called out Trudeau during question period on Wednesday, urging him to "put down his selfie stick and get to work building these pipelines."
Conservative critic for environment and climate change Ed Fast told reporters that Wednesday’s announcement is part of a "Liberal pattern of dismissing the value of Canada’s resources."
He said the new review process sends a “terrible, terrible signal to the world” that Canada’s natural resource projects will suffer from “political interference.”
"Canada is slowly closing their doors to business and that’s going to hurt Canadians badly,” he said, adding that pipeline projects are important to “long-term prosperity" of the country.
Green Party Leader and B.C. MP Elizabeth May said the previous Conservative government "destroyed" the environmental assessment process in its "ideological" bid to push through pipeline projects. The Liberals’ reaction will inevitably be "an imperfect response," she said.
However, May offered that the new measures are a "reasonable approach if and only if they (the government) rigorously review" all the evidence presented at pipeline assessment hearings.
Environmental groups that have openly opposed the pipelines seemed to echo May’s sentiments. Adam Scott of the Environmental Defence organization said that the resource project review has been “completely broken” in Canada over the past few years, so "today’s announcement is a good step…but it’s certainly not a full revamp of the process that we need to see."
"The previous process never asked truly, ‘Are these projects in the best interests of Canadians?'" he said, adding that “asking the right questions” will lead to better decisions on pipelines.
With files from CTV's Laurie Graham in Ottawa and The Canadian Press