Dec '15/Jan '16

The year ahead: The election

Meet the new cabinet

By Kate Sheridan

The new Liberal cabinet was sworn in at Rideau Hall on Nov. 4, and at least one of the ministers will know a thing or two about the mining industry. MaryAnn Mihychuk, a former member of the Manitoba legislature and the founder of Women in Mining Canada, scored a cabinet seat as Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour. Although Mihychuk’s position may only tangentially affect mining-related policies, these six other new ministers will become familiar names and faces for the industry: Cabinet infographic

Promises, promises

The Liberals had 78 days to make promises to Canadians during the campaign. Now it is time to see how many stick. The new federal government has 184 promises to keep, according to a citizen watchdog group, Trudeaumetre – including several that will affect the resource extraction industries.

Many of the pledges made in the final version of the party’s campaign platform, released just prior to the election, were reiterated in the ministerial mandate letters made public in November, which identified the “top priorities” in each minister’s portfolio.

The entire federal environmental assessments process will be “immediately” reviewed to ensure that the oversight of areas under federal jurisdiction, which include fisheries and federal lands, is heightened while avoiding duplication with provincial and territorial processes. The government has also said they will analyze long-term impacts and greenhouse gas emissions as part of the new process.

Specifics are sparse about the changes to come; Natural Resources ministry spokesperson Jacinthe Perras said that modifications to assessments and oversight processes “will require a transition period for new projects, which is currently being worked on.”

That is not the only change coming for projects in the resources sector. According to the mandates received by the ministers of the environment, natural resources, and fisheries and oceans, companies with projects going through environmental assessments will be required “to choose the best technologies available to reduce environmental impacts.”

The government has promised to make cleaner technologies available to the industry, with tax credits and an extra $200 million invested each year “to support innovation and the use of clean technologies in our natural resource sectors,” including the mining industr­y – the only time it is explicitly referenced in the campaign platform document.

The commitment is a signal to the industry, according to Céline Bak, senior fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, “and signals are important,” she said.

“[Clean technology] is an industry that the government expects will be a part of renewing the economy, of building high-quality long-term jobs,” said Bak.

Mining companies could use renewable energy sources or build micro-grid electrical systems for local communities for power on remote sites, options that could be financially and socially responsible for the industry, she said, but the government must encourage companies to try the technology. The new funding could be one step in that direction.

Some things are likely to remain untouched, like the Mineral Exploration Tax Credit. In an interview with the Northern Miner, the Liberals said during the campaign period that they will continue to support the credit.

National Energy Board, Indigenous consultation changes in the pipeline

“No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared in his ministerial mandate letters, which were released to the public on Nov. 13. It echoed previous commitments made by the party to re-evaluate the way the government works with Indigenous Peoples, which could have wide-ranging impacts.

The Liberal government pledged to review the laws, policies and practices that guide federal environmental assessments, taking into account input from First Nations, Inuit and Métis groups. The review would also assess if the Crown is consulting and accommodating the view and rights of Indigenous Peoples appropriately, in line with various treaties signed with the Canadian government, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Liberals also highlighted the National Energy Board (NEB) as a priority for reform – or, as Trudeau has put it, “modernization.” The Board regulates pipelines as well as oil and gas exploration and production projects. At a campaign stop in June, Trudeau said, “[The Conservative] government has chosen to be a cheerleader instead of a referee on issues like this,” referring to environmental issues surrounding pipelines.

As part of the reforms, the Prime Minister directed Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr to ensure “that [the board’s] composition reflects regional views and has sufficient expertise in fields like environmental science, community development, and Indigenous traditional knowledge.” Indigenous groups would also be more involved in consultations with the NEB.

The NEB’s current outreach efforts to Indigenous communities include meeting with local communities to discuss the assessment process and inviting groups to weigh in on specific projects through the Enhanced Aboriginal Engagement program, according to the board’s website. (The website has not been changed since the new government came into power.)

Details of how the NEB will change are not being released just yet. “The Government has indicated that it is committed to renewing its relationship with Indigenous peoples based on trust, respect and cooperation, as well as to ensuring that this commitment is reflected in the environmental assessment and oversight processes for the natural resources sector,” said Jacinthe Perras, a spokesperson for the natural resources minister, who added that the way the changes will be transitioned in for new projects was still being developed.

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