Energy conference ends with directive to streamline clean growth projects

St. Albert Gazette file photo. Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson.

Brett McKay, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Albert Gazette

The Energy and Mines Ministers’ Conference in Calgary closed with the announcement of a federal cabinet directive to streamline the approval process for clean growth projects and get projects built faster, a move welcomed by provincial energy ministers.

Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson said at a news conference in Calgary Friday (July 5) that the cabinet directive on regulatory and permitting efficiency is the first major deliverable to come out of the federal assessments and permitting action plan released two weeks ago.

“At its core, the cabinet directive will get clean growth projects built faster by providing specific direction from the Prime Minister and cabinet to federal officials and organs across the government to streamline processes and to make good approvals faster,” Wilkinson said.

The cabinet directive will establish federal permitting and Crown consultation coordinators, create a public permitting dashboard “to enhance transparency,” and set targets for project assessment and permitting of two years for non-federally designated projects, three years for nuclear projects, and 5 years for federally designated projects.

Wilkinson said better coordination between the federal government, provinces, and Indigenous rights-holders will reduce duplicate red tape and help Canada stay competitive in the energy transition away from fossil fuels.

“The global energy transition is both an environmental imperative to protect the planet for future generations, and an economic opportunity on a scale similar to the Industrial Revolution. Increasingly, governments around the world are looking to seize these economic opportunities,” he said, noting the United States, Europe, Japan, and China have aggressively pursued renewable energy technologies.

Brian Jean, Alberta’s Minister of Energy and Minerals, applauded the federal cabinet directive on permitting and said the province would be working closely “ to make sure that we can streamline and make a better investment climate for everyone.”

“It is obvious federal government listened on this. We’ve had decades of dismal investment as a result of some of these barriers, and the devil is in the details, but it’s good news indeed,” Jean said.

Jean characterized the annual meeting of federal, provincial, and territorial energy and mining ministers as useful and productive, but did voice concerns over how new federal greenwashing rules would impact the oil and gas sector.

Bill C-59’s amendments to the Competition Act require companies to substantiate environmental claims about their products or business practices, such as net-zero claims. Jean said he wants clear direction from the federal government to the Competition Bureau to prevent the complaints system from being abused.

“Companies and trade associations are already terrified of endless legal expenses when they have to defend themselves from legal warfare coming from anti-development pressure groups,” Jean said.

Wilkinson said it’s entirely legitimate for the sector to be asking for guidance with respect to methodology, and the Competition Bureau needs to provide that information so people understand how the rules apply and what is actionable.

“I think once that is done, this will be, perhaps, a bit of a different conversation. I would expect that the guidance will be something like folks simply have to have a good faith basis to believe what they’re saying. And assuming that is true, I think the sector probably will calm down.”