Almost exactly 2 years ago, CEO.CA correspondent Jamie Keech interviewed Liberal natural resources critic Geoff Regan about the party's ideas on natural resources development, the environment, First Nations and more. The Liberal party won a majority of seats in Monday's federal election and while Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau will not name a cabinet until Nov. 4, it's a good bet that Regan will be part of it. We're republishing Keech's interview in the wake of Monday's dramatic shift in the Canadian political landscape.
TORONTO - Last week I sat down with Geoff Regan -- Canadian Federal Liberal Party Natural Resources critic and Member of Parliament for Halifax West -- to discuss the Liberal party’s views on Canadian natural resources, and how they fit into growing economic and environmental concerns. I was impressed with Mr. Regan's strong support for development in the mining industry as well as his abilities to grasp the nuances of environmental stewardship.
Let’s start simple. What’s your backstory, and what inspired you to get into politics?
I grew up in a political family -- my father was Premier of Nova Scotia, and later oversaw the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Resources as a federal MP. My wife is a Liberal Member of Legislative Assembly in Nova Scotia. Before getting into federal politics, I practiced law for nine years.
What experience have you had that qualifies you to oversee the Natural Resources portfolio?
In my home province of Nova Scotia, natural resources have always been extremely important. As an MP, I gained a lot of experience with the forestry industry, and later -- when I was Natural Resources critic under Michael Ignatieff -- my experience expanded to mining, oil, and gas.
When I was Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, I dealt with major issues like the Mackenzie River natural gas pipeline. At the time, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) was heavily involved in the environmental assessments of mining projects.
Sum up the Liberal vision for Canadian natural resource management for us.
We shouldn’t apologize for our abundance of natural resource wealth. Historically, it’s always been a big part of our economy. Mining and forestry have a remarkable legacy in Canada, playing a vital role in our economy. In the last century, oil and gas have, too. Canadian people are concerned about climate change and other issues associated with oil and gas, but the move away from petroleum products won’t be a rapid one. We expect the world to be buying oil and natural gas for a long time to come, and think the petroleum and mining sector is vital to Canada’s future.
At the same time, it’s extremely important we improve our environmental performance on all fronts. Unfortunately, people tend to frame the development debate as an either/or-type situation: you either extract oil or you’re environmentally friendly. It’s always framed as one or the other -- the Keystone XL pipeline debate is a prime example. I think that’s a false premise; Canada needs both to maintain a vital economy. If we can do that we will only increase the demand for our exports around the world.
How would you balance development and economic growth with our environmental responsibilities? How would your approach differ from the current Conservative one?
The Conservatives have failed at this from both ends. They try to ram projects through with brute force rather than finesse, and what we end up with is little but animosity and acrimony. They’ve hardly done anything to address climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. We’re nowhere near meeting our 2020 emissions targets; this has been noticed by countries such as the US and can be linked to the failure of projects that are in our national interest, like Keystone XL. It’s a perfect example of how important it is that we act -- and be recognised -- as an environmentally responsible country.
Collaboration with and respect for First Nations groups is a key concern for mining, and oil and gas companies. What are your thoughts on the importance of First Nations consultation regarding these projects?
The first thing we need to recognize is that aboriginal communities often want to be the labour force, contractors, and suppliers for these projects. This means they need the right skills and training -- something we’re currently failing to provide. We need to expand their role in these projects and collaborate with them to improve education.
The duty to consult and accommodate First Nations groups is extremely important. Doug Eyford (Prime Minister Harper’s point person on the Northern Gateway project) described it well, saying:
First Nations communities are expected to become experts in energy policy and make decisions that may permanently alter their cultural connection to their traditional territories. These projects are profoundly challenging for aboriginal leaders and confrontation and resistance are the likely outcome if their communities are not effectively engaged during the planning and development stages.
This doesn’t come close to what the government has been doing, and that’s why there’s a real problem with Northern Gateway right now. It happens too often that the federal government stands at arm’s length from the consultation process. Government has the responsibility to ensure meaningful consultation and collaboration. There have been occasions where companies have been very successful at managing the process, but we think the Canadian government has a greater responsibility -- to ensure that collaboration and engagement which respects Aboriginal rights is sustained throughout all engagements with Aboriginal communities.
The transparency and corporate social responsibility of the mining industry is coming under increasing scrutiny. As a result, the government has committed to making all overseas transactions of Canadian mining, oil, and gas companies subject to mandatory reporting. What do you think about this initiative? Does it go far enough?
Canadians expect our businesses to reflect their values, and the success of Canadian business rests in part on Canada’s good reputation. When one company -- or individuals associated with a company -- acts in a way that damages our reputation, it hurts all international Canadian business. The mandatory reporting of all overseas transactions makes sense to me. Continuing to address these issues and finding meaningful solutions is a priority of the Liberal party.
What are your thoughts on foreign investment and protecting our resources from outside investment and control?
There’s no question Canada needs foreign direct investment. We’ve had a lot of it throughout history, and have benefited from it in terms of job creation and resource development. At the same time, Canadians feel strongly about certain industries. They recognize the benefits of productivity gains and job growth (and their subsequent positive impacts on the middle class incomes), but also the need to ensure that foreign investors obey our labour, environmental, corporate, and immigration laws. And we’d like the government to be more consistent and strategic in this, so investors have a better idea where they stand. Under the current government, investors worldwide have had a hard time figuring that out.
The Conservatives have made streamlining the permitting process for major projects a priority. What are your thoughts on this?
When I was the Fisheries and Oceans Minister, I worked closely with the then-Natural Resources Minister, trying to streamline and improve the permitting process. My stance was that environmental assessments should be thorough, but provide the applicant with an evidence based yes or no answer within a reasonable timeframe. I don’t think anyone would argue that the past process didn’t need improvement, but the Conservatives went too far with their recent changes.
The Conservative changes take focus away from environmental impacts during the assessment process. To say, for example, that you’re only concerned about bodies of water that contain commercially-fished species means you’re not actually concerned with the true environmental impact -- you’re only concerned with the economic impact. For a government that’s responsible for protecting our environment, only looking at the economic impact of natural resource projects is an odd way of going about it.
There’s been intense debate surrounding both the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines. Is the federal Liberal party in support of or opposition to these projects?
We have no issues with building pipelines -- we agree there’s a need to get our energy products to more diverse markets at fair prices. We’re certainly concerned about the economic impact we’ve seen as a result of the divergence of oil price at an Alberta well versus a west Texas intermediate. This is a problem that impacts Alberta, and Canada at large, in terms of the economy, and all the programs those dollars help fund.
However, we think these projects must pass a thorough review that proves they’re safe, and that plans are in place to deal with unforeseen events (such as spills). We need to collaborate with local communities as partners -- especially aboriginal ones, for whom we have a constitutional duty to consult and accommodate. If a project can’t pass these tests, it should be redesigned or scrapped.
The Liberal party supports the Keystone XL pipeline. We oppose Northern Gateway because we have serious concerns about the damage it could cause, and the fact that it hasn’t won its social license to operate. We are, however, very interested in the development of a west to east pipeline, which could be very positive for the Atlantic region economy and provide alternative access to world markets.
The mining industry is in the midst of a global recession, with metal prices slumping and development slowing dramatically. What role should the federal government play in creating a favourable regulatory and investment environment for mining companies and junior explorers? How would you propose doing this?
A government has to be aware of all the elements that affect the mining sector. It needs to efficiently manage its own activity, oversee the domestic economy, and provide a fiscal environment where people can thrive -- on their own, or in an industry like mining. We’ve supported past measures, like flow-through shares, that have helped companies succeed during lean times, and we think we need to be managing processes effectively to ensure success without getting in the way of the goose that laid the golden egg.
Geoff, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
About the author:
Jamie Keech is an experienced Canadian mining engineer with a background in environmental development and corporate social responsibility within the mining industry. He has an undergraduate degree in Mineral Engineering from the University of Toronto (Canada) and a Masters degree focused on environmental development and CSR in the mining industry from the Camborne School of Mines at the University of Exeter (UK). Interests lie in responsible resource development, transparency within the extractive industries, and effective resource policy and governance.
Jamie has worked in mineral exploration, development and mining operations in Albania, Hong Kong, Mongolia and throughout North America. One of Jamie's most recent project involved coordinating regulatory affairs and environmental management on a major mining project in the Canadian Arctic.
Jamie's Masters research, into the social impact of mining in the EU, was completed in close conjunction with faculty at the University of Exeter and The Eden Project and published as part of an EU framework program 7 report. In addition to this he has written on topics such as extractive industry transparency and governance for various mining news sources.
Reach him by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright CEO.CA 2013.