Government must stop creating uncertainty and start championing world-leading regulations

August 18, 2016

As Canadians, we are fortunate to benefit from an abundance of energy resources that fuel our homes and our economy from coast-to-coast-to-coast. Canada is the fifth-largest oil producer in the world with the third largest oil reserves, most of which are right here in Alberta. With all of this energy in our own country, Canada still relies on foreign oil. In fact, eastern Canadian refineries import an astounding 86% of their oil from foreign countries. In addition, because of a lack of global market access, it is estimated that Canadian producers lose as much as $50 billion a day in revenue.

The timely approval of new energy infrastructure projects would reduce our reliance on foreign oil, and would also allow responsible, world-renowned and respected Canadian oil and gas to reach broader international markets at competitive prices. The world demand for oil and gas will continue to grow, and while Canada produces the most environmentally and socially responsible oil and gas in the world, energy development is undertaken by despotic regimes that violate human rights and only benefit the ruling class, with no environmental regulations, limits on emissions or social responsibility, in other parts of the world.

During a recent study conducted by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources, the Canadian Standards Association noted that some foreign governments and industry officials are adopting Canada’s standards for pipeline operations. The CSA says Canada’s regulations are “the best in the world”. During the same committee study, Richard Sendall from the In Situ Oil Sands Alliance highlighted Canada’s excellent standards and regulatory framework. He said, “Canada also has world-leading environmental regulations. Of the top oil reserve holders, only Canada is covered by world-class, stringent environmental regulation and oversight.” Mr. Sendall also said Canada “is the only major oil-producing jurisdiction with comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions regulations.”

Canada’s world-renowned, internationally respected regulatory system has been rightfully earned. The Liberal government is putting Canada at risk of losing our position as a global leader, at the very worse time. They are perpetuating uncertainty and unpredictability through mixed messages and impending changes, and undermining confidence in Canada’s energy regulators.

All Canadians support environmentally and socially responsible energy development that provides jobs and $17 billion in government revenue per year, but regulatory assessment should be based on facts and diligence, not manipulated as a delay tactic for political purposes. Both energy investment and confidence in the credibility of Canada’s regulatory system depend on clarity and predictability. Governments, the regulators, project proponents and Canadians should be able to understand what the assessments actually entail, and who is responsible for each part.

But the Liberals are creating persistent confusion. For example, during the May 2, 2016 meeting of the natural resources committee, during a discussion on the Liberals’ five interim principles for energy project assessments, Liberal Member of Parliament Marc Serré stated that the measures are part of the National Energy Board. Liberal ministers sell these measures as necessary to “restore public confidence” and to “modernize the approval process”. But on May 30, 2016, Jim Fox of the National Energy Board stated that the NEB’s “understanding of the measures is that they are intended to assist the Governor in Council or cabinet in making its ultimate decision. The interim measures are designed to gather information for cabinet to consider the NEB’s report.”

Project proponents and industry are equally as confused as the Liberal government seems to be about the new measures. Chris Bloomer from the Canadian Energy Pipelines Association told the committee that “there is a degree of uncertainty, and I think over the course of time in the near term here we’ll see what that leads to, what the process is,” and Alex Ferguson from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said, “we’ve scratched our heads a little bit…” and he said the interim process is “a bit up in the air”.

This kind of uncertainty and lack of clarity deters investment and exacerbates already staggering job losses in Canada’s energy sector. Government should showcase to both Canadians and to the world Canada’s ever-improving track record of climate and social responsibility instead of layering duplicative regulatory burdens in response to political agendas that are often funded and advanced by Canada’s energy competitors, and based on myths.

Canada’s government must become a champion for our regulations and for our energy workers. They must unequivocally support energy infrastructure projects that are not only recommended for approval by our national regulator, but also in the best interests of all Canadians and on which our country’s economy and long-term prosperity depend.

Shannon Stubbs is the Member of Parliament for Lakeland, and the Official Opposition Deputy Critic for Natural Resources.