Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., with operations spanning from Alberta's oil sands to offshore South Africa, thinks Canada should ditch its polite reputation when reviewing natural resources projects. In short: Stop compromising and start developing.
John Langille, the company's vice-chairman, backs the federal government's increasingly hard-line attitude toward environmental groups agitating at regulatory hearings to thwart or slow new resource projects aimed at tapping the country's mining and energy wealth.
"The regulatory system has become too much of an onerous task to get approval for projects," Mr. Langille told reporters during CNRL's investor day Wednesday. "I shouldn't use these words … but I'll use them anyway: In some cases, we're maybe nice Canadians and we want to try to compromise with everybody.
"So when somebody opposes something, we try to compromise [with]them and maybe, as Canadians, maybe we have to stop doing that to a certain degree."
Resource companies typically want regulatory scrutiny kept to a minimum. But Mr. Langille's comments are an endorsement of a controversial stand federal officials are taking, and signal growing confidence in the resources industry that the Harper government has its back.
The Tory government wants to put a time limit on reviews and change tax laws in a way that would put a dent green groups' budgets, for example. The government argues some environmental groups, which it has characterized as "radical" and "foreign," are hurting the country's economic development.
Oil and gas companies have long negotiated with outsiders, such as communities neighbouring their projects, in order to gain what the industry now dubs a "social licence to operate." The phrase has gained popularity in recent months, with energy outfits boasting how they have transformed critics into allies through give-and-take deals. But attempts to quash voices and speed up regulatory reviews could undermine the industry's effort to show friendliness.
When considering projects like Enbridge Inc.'s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, a controversial project connecting the oil sands to the West Coast, financial benefits should carry more weight than they do now, Mr. Langille said. The same, he said, should apply to resource projects outside the oil patch.
"We [should]look more to the economic benefits than just trying to compromise."
The federal government is taking heat for wanting to rewrite environmental laws within its budget bill, and having a major oil company back the Conservatives so vocally is only going to compound the backlash, critics argue.
"It is quite disturbing when we have both the federal government and companies like this proposing Canadians should have less say in important natural resource development projects," said Simon Dyer, policy director at the Pembina Institute. "If companies actually want the social licence to operate on the landscape, it is good to actually encourage Canadians to actually participate in the regulatory process."
Mr. Langille said he believes some environmental groups should be excluded from regulatory hearings, but did not specify which ones. He did say, however, that if the project under review "affects Canada more than it affects everybody else, then it should just be Canadians" participating.
Mr. Dyer, who has participated in several regulatory reviews, argues some delays occur when companies do not submit sufficient information and government agencies such as Natural Resources Canada encourage review boards to push for more data.
He points to Royal Dutch Shell PLC's Jackpine oil sands mine expansion aspirations as an example. NRC and Environment Canada in December said Shell's submission was inadequate and they needed more information.