VANCOUVER, CANADA (Vancouver Sun) - Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver began selling British Columbians on the benefits of a pipeline to deliver Canadian energy to Asia Monday, saying it would be “the height of irresponsibility” for the federal government not to capitalize on Asia’s energy needs.
In a speech to the B.C. Chamber of Commerce at Vancouver’s Terminal City Club, Oliver said the government is not going to let “radical environmental groups” and over-lengthy regulatory processes prevent the country from diversifying its energy markets.
While he spoke, several dozen protesters gathered in the rain outside to demonstrate opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline. Over 4,300 individuals and groups have signed up to speak at the environmental review panel that is now holding hearings across British Columbia. The hearings are expected to take a year.
The minister spoke in generalities about the need for infrastructure to deliver Alberta oil to Asia, saying that he could not address the Northern Gateway proposal directly as it is before the environmental review process. However, he listed the benefits the $5.5 billion pipeline project will bring to first nations, including jobs and over $1 billion that Enbridge has already put on the table.
He said Canada needs to diversify away from the U.S. market to take advantage of higher energy prices in Asia. He said Asian demand represents “hundreds of thousands of jobs in Canada and literally trillions of dollars in economic activity here and right across the country.”
“Canada has huge oil and gas reserves. The time to capitalize on these resources and diversify our energy resources is now. It is in our national interest,” he said. “If Canada does not move to supply the burgeoning Asian market for energy, someone else will and Canadians will have lost out on billions and billions of economic benefits that can support our quality of life for generations. It would be the height of irresponsibility for any government to stand back and allow that to happen.”
He also said if first nations remain unconvinced that the Northern Gateway pipeline is environmentally sound and an economic advantage to them, then the government is ready to justify that it has met its constitutional obligations to them.
“We have a moral and constitutional obligation to consult and to accommodate and if that doesn’t work, to justify,” he said.
In a later interview, he said he was referring to Supreme Court rulings that require the government to consult and accommodate first nations interests.
“Only if accommodation breaks down, does one get into the next stage,” he said.
He also said the regulatory process itself is a problem in developing energy projects that he wants to see addressed. Delays are commonplace, he said.
“Investors need timely decisions. If proponents are forced to wait too long for regulatory decisions, they will look for other opportunities to pursue.”
The minister also kept up his attack on environmentalists, repeating his claim that they are radicals who threaten to hijack the regulatory system “to achieve their radical ideological agenda” by “stacking public hearings with bodies.”
Tzeporah Berman, co-director of climate and energy programs at Greenpeace International, said Oliver and the Harper government have declared war on anyone opposing the pipeline.
She said Oliver and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have under-estimated opposition to the pipeline.
“They have clearly staked their ground and I think they have under-estimated how much that is actually galvanizing and bringing people of diverse interests together to oppose them.
“This is heading into the largest environmental battle of the decade,” Berman said. “It is not just about the impacts of — not potential but likely — oil spills along the route. It is also about the impacts of increased and dangerous tanker traffic. And it is also a symbol and an organizing focal point for those concerned about the fact that this government has not put into place a single policy to reduce global warming pollution.”
Oliver also met with B.C. Premier Christy Clark Monday. He said issues surrounding oilsands development that affect the province need to be discussed. However, he would not mention specifics beyond the overall economic benefit of developing the oilsands and building pipelines to the Pacific.
“If the oilsands are fully developed — if we can build the infrastructure — we are talking about $3.3 trillion in economic activity over the next 25 years, up to 700,000 jobs on an annual basis for Canadians and hundreds of billions of dollars in revenues to governments in the form of taxation that will fund our social programs like health, like education and pensions,” Oliver said.
He also said he does not expected the Northern Gateway issue to end up in court if first nations remain steadfast in their opposition.
“I remain very hopeful that the aboriginal communities will see the enormous benefits to them of these projects. It is up to them to negotiate the best deal that they can, and in the meantime, to be heard.”
Copyright 2014 Vancouver Sun
Updated 1039 days ago Article ID# 1416038