Danielle In The House, November 5: Bill 2, Responsible Energy Development Act

Ms Smith: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I rise to speak in favour of the motion to defer this bill to committee, the Standing Committee on Resource Stewardship. I think this goes back to a commitment that the Premier made during the leadership race. She talked about doing legislation differently. I think that she was probably just as frustrated as we are on the opposition benches when we see a 150-page bill come down and go through multiple stages of reading over the course of a matter of days without having the opportunity to fully debate it as a caucus, without having the opportunity to return to your constituency and debate it with your stakeholders, without having the opportunity to actually hash out legitimate amendments being brought forward by opposition members. I think that the entire reason why the Premier created the new committee structure was so that she could keep her commitment to do politics differently.

What we’re hoping with this bill – I think that we’ve demonstrated good faith. There have been a number of bills that have come forward that, as you can see, we’re quite prepared to support. I don’t think that we’re that far apart on a whole range of issues. On this bill, in particular, I think that we can find a solution by making some amendments so that the government is able to put forward confidently a bill where they can go out, whether they’re in an urban environment, whether they’re in a rural environment, whether they’re talking to an energy company or a landowner or environmentalist, and say: we’ve got a good piece of legislation here with a good process that has got buy-in from all parties, that has got buy-in from all of the stakeholder groups.

I have to say that I’m a bit confused about why the government wouldn’t respond to that olive branch, wouldn’t respond to that offer, and wouldn’t respond to that challenge of their own leader, quite frankly, to actually do politics differently and to do legislation differently. We have seen time and again, unfortunately, that when complex bills like this are rammed through without enough consultation, without enough discussion, without enough due consideration of amendments, mistakes get made.

Then we end up with a political battle that rages out there among a variety of different organizations and factions that should be working together for the development and the betterment of our province and that end up working against each other, and it creates more division rather than more unity.

We know that our energy companies will not benefit if we end up with landowners who are hostile because they feel that their interests are not going to be well taken care of under this legislation.

We are talking about amending the bill in a couple of key ways so that landowners and environmentalists can feel like they are part of this process, too. Otherwise, we’re going to make things more difficult for our energy companies because every time they have to go into a negotiation with a landowner, there’s a landowner who’s going to be worried that now they don’t have access to the Environmental Appeals Board hearing or that they don’t have the ability to intervene in the way that they did in the past. That is not going to lead to very good negotiations at the ground level.

We know that we’ve got, by and large, a pretty good system in Alberta. We recognize that we’ve got two rights. We’ve got the surface owner, who has rights. We’ve got the subsurface owner, who has rights and partners with Alberta to develop our resources on behalf of all Albertans. We also know that those mineral rights holders have the right to be able to go in and have access. That’s why we have the Surface Rights Board, so that in the event that we don’t end up with an agreement, there can be a forced entry order, and there can be factors of compensation considered. The nice part about the way our system is structured is that the vast, vast, vast majority of all of the negotiations between mineral rights holders and surface leaseholders or surface landowners end up without having to go through that combative litigious process.

We want to make sure that that relationship stays strong. It’s been frayed over the last number of years. It’s been frayed for a number of reasons. It’s been frayed because of Bill 50. I know it’s a different issue, the approach that the government took on transmission lines, saying: “You know what? Landowners have become a bit too cumbersome to this process. They’re kind of standing in the way of what we want to do, so we’re just going to eliminate the process and make a bunch of decisions in cabinet.” I don’t know what the government thought was going to happen when they decided to do that, but it’s entirely predictable to me what ended up happening. Landowners across the entire province stood up and said: we’re not going to take it.

Then with Bill 19, the Land Assembly Project Area Act, the same thing happened. The government thought: well, all of that compensation, that pesky compensation, kind of gets in the way of what we want to do, so we’re just going to pass laws to limit the compensation to just market value, and by the way we’re just going to freeze the land, and we’ll let you know if we’re going to need it. I don’t know what they thought landowners would do in response to legislation like that. Of course they started having landowner meetings across the entire province, of course they stood up against that, and of course the government once again was forced to come back to this Legislature and fix it.

Then the Land Stewardship Act, which I think we still end up having problems with. We’ve seen what happens when the cabinet takes it upon themselves to make decisions that go outside of a regulatory framework, in the case of the lower Athabasca regional plan the cancellation of 18 oil sands leases. We have no idea what kind of leases are going to be impacted through the South Saskatchewan regional plan, but we know that landowners are just  as concerned about that. We know the government had to come back once again and make changes to that legislation to be able to satisfy those concerns of landowners.

What I don’t get is why on earth we’ve gone through three different pieces of contentious legislation; three different instances where landowner or leaseholder rights are at play; three different instances where landowner groups have said, “Stop; you can’t do this”; three different instances where they didn’t feel their compensation was properly protected or that their rights to due process were properly protected. Why would the government, having gone through that for three years, be wanting to make the same mistakes all over again when there are some very simple, very easy fixes to this legislation?

I think we can work it out if we get down to talking with each other in a forum like the Standing Committee on Resource Stewardship, where we would end up with an all-party committee, all of us from different parties coming together. We have the ability to bring in witnesses so that we can vet their views on the concerns that they have about different pieces of this bill so that the members in the party opposite can hear the same things that we’re hearing from the people who are calling our offices and calling our MLAs, so that we all have the same information, so that we can go forward and create the very best bill that we possibly can.

There’s absolutely no point in creating an environment where you force through a piece of legislation that we know is flawed.

We were able to have 12 amendments that we put on the table. I’m quite certain we probably could have come up with more had we been given more time, but the whole point is that we’re forcing through a massive change to the way we are regulating our energy industry, to the way in which they’re going to interact with our environmental groups, with our landowner groups.

The government is asking for this to just be forced through. When I looked at the schedule for how quickly the government wanted to move on this bill this week, they wanted to be done third reading by the end of the week. How on earth are we going to get good legislation if in the space of essentially two to three weeks we get this dumped on us along with, you know, I guess, 400 other pieces of legislation? We’ve got tons of stakeholder consultation that we’re doing, and we simply are not going to get good legislation if we end up forcing it through without proper debate, without listening to the stakeholders.

I’m imploring the government to realize that we are with them on this, that we do want a regulatory environment that is streamlined, that we do want a regulatory environment that works for our energy companies, but we want it to work as well for the environmental community, and we want it to work as well for our landowner community.

What we have heard from the feedback we’ve been getting on this legislation is that it’s not there yet. There is no need to rush this. We have had the environment that we’ve been in getting slowly and slowly and slowly worse for a long time now. I don’t know that it could get much worse, which is why I think there’s so much hope in the energy industry that by making these kinds of substantive changes, we could start rolling back some of the regulatory red tape and paperwork that has gotten in the way of our being able to make development decisions in a timely way.

But we’re not going to be able to do that if we end up creating once again friction and conflict between the key stakeholders who are impacted by energy development. We think that some of the proposals we’re putting forward are very, very reasonable.

One of the things I would say as well, part of the reason I think it’s so important for the government to slow down on this, is that when I was with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Alberta consistently would score Ds and Fs from our organization when it was assessed about the progress they were making on being able to improve the regulatory environment.

There were a few key things that this government was never able to get right. One of the things that they were never able to get right is that they were consistently reluctant to set a benchmark for measuring the overall amount of regulation. That is absolutely key if you’re actually going to reduce the amount of the regulatory burden. You need to know what the problem is right now.

I think we’ve done a pretty good job, looking at the work that the Environment and Sustainable Resource Development minister has done, of at least quantifying it, at least benchmarking just how bad the regulatory environment is. But where I think we’re not seeing what the industry wants to see is: how are we going to improve it by having dedicated timelines in place that we enforce on the regulator so that the regulator has to manage their workload in a way that will meet those regulatory requirements? This is one area that I think we need to have a great deal of discussion about because we can’t just leave it to the regulator. In having left it to the regulator for the last number of years, all we’ve seen is that the regulatory burden has continued to grow and grow and grow.

There does not seem to be an attitude among the regulators, either in this area or any other area across government, quite frankly, that they quite get what the process of genuine regulatory reform looks like. Let me tell you what it looks like in other provinces. This is, again, why I was hoping we’d see some of this attitude brought to this legislation and why I think that if we have these conversations in this committee, we may be able to get there.

Not only would this be exciting, to reduce the regulatory burden for energy, but we could apply this across all of government. One of the great examples of a successful regulatory reform effort was in British Columbia. When Gordon Campbell came in 2004, he promised to reduce the regulatory burden by 40 per cent. What he did is that he benchmarked the total amount of regulatory requirements, and he went out and told his administrators: “Okay. Reduce it by 40 per cent.” What ended up happening is that anytime one new regulatory requirement came in, the regulators had to find five to eliminate. So ultimately, as they were creating new regulations, they were constantly finding other types of regulations that they could eliminate and streamline. At the end they’re now in a position where every time somebody wants to introduce a new regulatory requirement, they have to find one to eliminate. We haven’t even gotten to that first step in Alberta.

Secondly, there was another excellent regulatory reform effort that took place in Nova Scotia – this is one of my personal favorites – where they actually sat down all of the administrators, all of the members of the civil service, and they made them fill out every form and permit and licence and application and report that they were imposing on the business community. Then they timed how long it took for them to fill out all of those permits and forms and licences and reports and applications and developed a benchmark for the number of hours of regulatory burden. They came up with 615,000 hours of regulatory burden that was imposed on the business community in one year.

The politicians said: reduce it by 20 per cent. That’s when they created an environment within the regulator where rather than being a regulation maker, they became regulation managers. For every new process that they came up with, they were constantly trying to find ways to streamline the regulatory environment, reduce the amount of paperwork, reduce the number of hands that a piece of paper ended up touching before a decision was made, and ultimately reduce the time frames.

This is the kind of constructive, positive regulatory reform effort that I think the industry is hoping to see out of what we’re going through with this change to a single regulator. But I have to say that I don’t think I see anything in the legislation that leads me to believe that that is the direction the government is going in. I don’t see anything in the reports that CFIB has done or in any of the assessment that outside organizations have done of this government’s progress in doing those kinds of reform efforts that this is actually going to be successful. That’s, again, one more reason why we need to have this go to a committee: so that we can bring in groups like CFIB, so we can bring in groups from the energy sector who are impacted by the regulatory environment, so we can hear their stories, so that we can actually ensure that we’re identifying the right problems.

This is the concern that I have with the approach this bill takes. It does eliminate a couple of appeals boards. It does eliminate a couple of processes. But is that what the industry is really complaining about? Are those the right processes for us to be eliminating? The Environmental Appeals Board: is that really what industry has been asking for, to eliminate that? I highly doubt it. I don’t think that this government has heard enough. I don’t think they’ve listened enough to the exact problems that the industry is having so that we know that when this is being implemented, it’s being implemented in the right way.

The reason why I say that is that they gave way too much latitude to the regulator to set their own timelines, their own targets, and I think that that’s going to be where the problem is.

Those timelines and those targets need to be set by this Legislature. Those timelines and those targets need to be set here in the Legislature and imposed on the regulator so that they don’t have that latitude. We’re the ones who are supposed to tell them: “Look. It should take 180 days for you to get this approval done. You have to manage your workload to be able to get to that, and if you can’t get to that, you have to tell us why not.” We’re the ones who are supposed to be setting those targets on them so that we can end up meeting those goals.

In the case of the oil sands you hear stories. When I was up at CNRL, the Horizon project – they started the regulatory journey to create the Horizon 2 and 3 projects back in 2000. They did not get all of their permits in place until 2009, 300 permits and licences later, nine years later. This is the problem with the regulatory environment that we have in Alberta.

We want to constructively work with the government to be able to address this. We want to constructively work with the government to be able to fix this, but the only way we can actually do that is not by forcing every one of us to sit here until 4 o’clock in the morning debating our 12 amendments and hoping against hope that the government might see reason on one or two of them. We think the proper way of doing this is for everybody to get a good night’s sleep, for us to go back to our constituencies and talk to our stakeholders, and then come back after the legislative break and have a good opportunity to speak about this in this Standing Committee on Resource Stewardship.

We would love to work with the government to see if we can get through that process so that we can hold the spillover until the new year. If we can do that kind of work over the course of the next couple of months, if we can do that work and get this as the first item to come back in the new year, in the spring session, I think we’ll all be a lot happier. I think we’ll all end up with a process that we feel we can take to our stakeholders in our communities, that the government can take not only to the energy sector but also to landowner groups as well as to environmentalists and say: “We’ve got a pretty good process here. Let’s try it out.”

Now, we know that we’re not going to get it perfect. We’re not asking for perfection. What we’re asking is for us to fix the largest and most glaring problems in this legislation. There are many.

We’ve identified 12 of them. I’m sure that the members of the other opposition parties will have identified some as well. I’m just asking for the government to listen to the argument. We’re not here to try to make political hay out of this issue. [interjections]

Well, I can tell you that there’ll be a lot of political hay that will be made out of this issue if the government does not listen to the voices of legitimate landowners and environmental groups. We have no problem making hay out of political issues when the government makes mistakes. We have, and we will. The question on this piece of legislation is: why would we do that? This is too important.

We know that this entire province needs to work together because we’ve got folks outside our borders who are more than happy to be barbing arrows at this province, talking about our environmental record, talking about our development record. The last thing that we need is to have those who are within this province not standing behind our energy industry. If we can feel proud about the work our energy industry is doing, if we can feel proud about the work that they are doing that is in sync with what

the environmentalists are asking for, if we can feel proud about the work that they’re doing that we know respects landowner rights, then we are going to create 3.5 million ambassadors for our industry going outside our borders, talking to their friends, talking to their neighbours not only across Canada but in the U.S. and around the world. That’s the way you change public opinion. [interjections] It’s true.

You don’t change public opinion by creating a process that has the different factions that are affected by development at war with one another. This is the divide-and-conquer strategy that this government has played on three different pieces of legislation.

They got called out on it. It’s not our fault that they got called out for bad legislation. You bet that we’re going to be talking about those areas if they’re not respecting the environment and they’re not respecting landowner rights. But why would they go through it again? We’re, again, more than happy to work with the government to be able to fix these bills so that we can take it back to those landowners who are in our areas, those energy companies that are in our areas, and those environmental groups that are in our areas and say: “Yeah, they did listen. They did make some amendments. They did improve this legislation.”

But if they don’t go through this process, if they try to ramrod this through again, I can guarantee you that two years from now we’re going to be back here again after two years of advocacy by various environmental groups, by various landowner groups, and the government is going to realize: “Whoops. We made a mistake, and now we’ve got to fix it.” Why would we go through that for the next two years? Why not just take an extra couple of months to be able to do this right, to hear from all of the different players, to hear from all of the different stakeholders, to amend this bill so that we can all feel good about going back to our constituents, standing with unanimous consent, as we have on some of the other bills in this Legislature, and feel really good about the development that we’re doing in this industry.

I know that the people I speak to want this process fixed. I know that the landowners I speak to want to be respected, the environmental groups I speak to want to feel good about the process that we have here. The government has a real opportunity to do things right, and the only way we can get that done right is if we refer to this committee, and we take the time that we need to make sure that we’re making the amendments so that we can all stand behind this bill.

Thank you, Madam Speaker