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Minister urges action to speed up environmental reviews

By Daniel Proussalidis, National Bureau

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa January 30, 2012.    REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa January 30, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

OTTAWA - 

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver wants to speed up the approvals process for major natural resource projects in Canada, but he's in no rush to reveal when he'll introduce changes.

So far, the minister will only hint that changes are coming soon.

"By acting now to modernize our regulatory regime, we can help to assure that (natural resources) will be a cornerstone of our prosperity for generations into the future," said Oliver in his prepared comments to the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce in Regina on Tuesday.

The minister has refused to comment on media reports that the March 29 federal budget will include the accelerated approval process.

But Oliver does say there's an urgent need for natural resource development in Canada, especially in the oilsands.

"I mean, the oilsands by itself has the capacity over the next 25 years to generate $3.3 trillion in economic activity, or 700,000 jobs on an annual basis over the next 25 years and tens of billions of dollars in revenue to governments to support important social programs," said Oliver after his speech.

That's the kind of expansion that worries environmental groups like Forest Ethics, which calls oil from the oilsands "the world's dirtiest oil."

Such arguments have never impressed Oliver.

He's often lashed out at groups that have accepted $300 million in funding from American foundations over 10 years and gotten Hollywood celebrities to campaign against the oilsands.

While the minister says the oilsands have to expand, he adds that can happen "in a responsible way."

"Nothing we are going to do would in any way compromise the regulatory integrity process or the ability of a regulator to do a full scientific evaluation to make sure there is no harm to Canadians and no harm to the environment," said Oliver.

The minister takes his natural resources development message to Vancouver on Wednesday.

-- with notes from Lisa Mrazek

 


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