APTN National News
OTTAWA–The Harper government is now setting its sights on the approval of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline which could pump up to 1.1 million barrels of Alberta tar sands bitumen to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick if built.
The federal 2014-15 budget unveiled Tuesday commits $28 million for the National Energy Board to review the pipeline’s application process. Part of the money will be used to enhance the Participant Funding Program and “provide timeline certainty,” the budget document said.
The money will be refunded by industry, the budget document said.
The budget, however, is silent on any new funding to improve the consultation process with First Nations whose territory lie in the path of pipelines like Energy East and Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline, which is awaiting cabinet approval.
The budget document, however, said Ottawa would be responding to recommendations made by Doug Eyford, who was appointed last year by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to canvass First Nation communities in Alberta and British Columbia on looming energy projects.
The budget provided no hint of a timeline on Ottawa’s response to Eyford’s report which recommended ways to build trust, foster inclusion and reconciliation with First Nations to pave the way for energy projects.
The budget document also said Ottawa would soon be responding to recommendations made by the Tanker Safety Expert Panel, which was announced on March 18, 2013, to study the issue. Some of the opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline stems from First Nation communities along the British Columbia coast who worry that increased tanker traffic triggered by the pipeline could lead to an environmental disaster.
No timeline was given as to when the federal government would respond to those recommendations.
It’s clear from the budget document that the Harper government sees Canada’s natural resource wealth as the main driver for the country’s economy and acknowledges, to a degree, the need for buy-in from First Nation communities.
“The government will continue to consult with Aboriginal partners on maximizing opportunities related to resource projects,” said the budget document.
Roughly 30,000 indigenous people worked in the energy, mining and forestry industry throughout Canada in 2012, according to the budget document.
“Innovative partnerships are being formed between Aboriginal communities, governments and the private sectors to capitalize on the potential social and economic benefits offered by natural resource development,” said the budget document.
The budget, however, provides no details on how or if there are plans to improve the consultation process with First Nations.
Because natural resources fall under provincial jurisdiction, the federal government has for the most part left it up to the provinces to deal with the issue even though First Nations fall under the federal government’s mandate.
While the budget doesn’t use the word Northern Gateway anywhere in the document, its looming approval is telegraphed within its pages.
The need get Alberta mined bitumen and natural gas to the world market is seen as “essential for Canada’s future prosperity and security.”
The budget document estimates that Canada will be pumping about 5.8 million barrels a day of oil by 2035 and 86 per cent of the total will be coming from Alberta’s tar sands. The tar sands currently account for about 57 per cent of Canadian oil production.
The budget document said 98 per cent of Canada’s crude oil goes to the U.S. along with all of its natural gas exports.
“Exporting only to the U.S. market has resulted in significantly lower Canadian crude oil prices relative to global benchmarks in recent years,” said the budget document. “This is significantly reducing the value of Canadian exports and gross domestic product.”