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B.C.'s restructured natural resources ministry causing shock waves Add to ...

Editor's note: The term “business leaders” in an internal memo from British Columbia’s new Ministry of Natural Resource Operations refers to a job title for certain civil servants, not corporate executives.

One of the big initiatives Premier Gordon Campbell put in motion before he announced his plans to retire was a restructuring of the way government deals with natural resource issues.

But the next premier may want to take a hard look at the plan, which was drafted without cabinet consultation, and which is sending organizational shockwaves through the government.

Seeking to streamline the way resource projects are assessed and licensed, Mr. Campbell set a team of senior officials to work on his vision of creating one shop to handle all resource issues for government.

What emerged from this project is the new Ministry of Natural Resource Operations, or NRO.

The creation of the new department has triggered changes in many ministries, affecting thousands of government workers, causing some offices to disappear, while others break apart as staff are reassigned.

“It’s just been blown apart. We got some of the news last Tuesday. It was confirmed later in the week. The Research Branch of the BC Forest Service is being disbanded,” says one e-mail from an alarmed bureaucrat. He signed off with these words: “Still in shock.”

Blair Lekstrom, who left cabinet because he opposed Mr. Campbell on the HST, told reporters after the recent cabinet shuffle that he was surprised by the creation of the new NRO, and by seeing his old ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources downgraded and split into two ministries (Energy and Forest, Mines and Lands).

He said the changes are badly thought out and should be stopped.

Bill Bennett, who was recently dumped from cabinet for questioning Mr. Campbell’s decision to remain in office until a new leader is chosen, has also been critical of the seismic shift within the bureaucracy.

He said important changes to cabinet responsibilities took place without caucus consultation.

“It’s my … understanding that the process has been continuing for eight months. They’ve been working on this without the involvement of elected people,” Mr. Bennett said in one interview.

He didn’t know if the creation of the new NRO would be a good or bad thing – streamlining government and cutting red tape after all are laudable goals – but he did say it failed to address the real issue.

“The fundamental problem facing the natural-resource ministries is they’re under funded,” he said.

Vicky Husband, a veteran environmental activist in B.C., says the sudden creation of the NRO is shocking because it seems to tilt government in favour of approving resource projects, rather than assessing them objectively.

She pointed to a memo from Doug Konkin and Steve Carr, NRO deputy ministers, which updates staff on the organizational changes.

“As I mentioned, our next step is to meet with business leaders in workshops on shaping and building Natural Resource Operations … so stay tuned,” it states.

“Meeting with business leaders only, what about the citizens?” Ms. Husband asks in an e-mail. “These are Crown lands and we expect them to be managed in the public interest and with protection of all values including environmental values.”

Caucus wasn’t consulted and the public interest is being ignored – but business leaders get workshops with deputy ministers to help ‘shape and build’ the new ministry?

What’s with that?

In an e-mail to staff, Mr. Konkin explains it all this way: “This new structure will streamline government processes for critical natural resource industries to better attract global investment and turn proposed projects and investments into actual worksites and jobs.”

So, on the eve of his departure, Mr. Campbell has dreamed up a whole new ministry that is being ‘shaped by business leaders’ to have a whole new way of dealing with resource use issues. In the process, he has shaken the internal structure of government and left environmentalists horrified.

The good news is that a new premier will soon be in charge, and the NRO could soon go the way of the HST.

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