Minister to hit fast-forward on environmental assessments

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Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has peeled back some of the mystery about when he’ll unveil a quicker environmental approval process for major resource projects.

"We will deal with it within months and not years," said Oliver after a Wednesday speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade.

Oliver has crossed the country this week to promote the idea of faster approvals, pointing to recommendations in a recent report from the Commons environment committee.

"Many of (the recommendations) are issues that I have raised and I think we’re going to be addressing many of them," said Oliver, but he wouldn’t confirm that the March 29 budget would include any of the details.

"As to what’s in the budget, of course, I cannot comment," said Oliver.

"But, what I can say is what we intend to do really relates to a matter of timeliness, so obviously we have to, in a timely way, get this legislation into the House."

Committee recommendations include setting a time limit for federal environmental assessments, eliminating the duplication between provincial and federal assessments, and streamlining aboriginal consultations.

That worries Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan, who sits on the environment committee.

"It looks like the pendulum may swing too far in one direction," said Duncan.

She says she recognizes the need of standardized and clarified environmental assessment rules, but wouldn’t endorse the idea they need to happen more quickly.

"There are some very large projects that are very complicated," she said,

noting that proper consultation "takes time."

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it was a "national priority" to develop the capacity to export Canadian energy products to Asia – just what the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal would do.

But hearings on that project have been bogged down by thousands of presenters, prompting Oliver to accuse environmentalists and "radicals" of hijacking the process.