Federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is holding out hope that the approval process for proposed new pipelines could take less time than billed as he faces renewed pressure to provide Canada's oil patch with the means of getting petroleum to new markets.
The process may end up being shorter, Mr. Carr said. "It could be," he told reporters at the start of a second day of a cabinet retreat in the mountains west of Calgary.
He pointed out that Ottawa will make a decision on Trans Mountain's expansion of its Kinder Morgan line between Alberta and the B.C. coast by December.
He said it will take up to 27 months for a decision on the proposed Energy East pipeline that would carry bitumen to Canada's East coast – once the application is received.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who is keen to win approval for new pipelines that can reach new markets and generate higher prices for Alberta petroleum, pitched ministers on Sunday night on the need to help her province.
Mr. Carr said he thinks that all the ministers learned something, calling the Premier "very effective" at making her case. "She has an argument and a story to tell and ministers were very keen to hear it."
Asked what the cabinet ministers learned, Mr. Carr said: "That Alberta is going through a tough time, [that] access to market is important."
He said the Liberals have long agreed.
Asked about former prime minister Brian Mulroney's warning last week that some projects might fall apart because regulatory approval takes too long, Mr. Carr said that is not Ottawa's responsibility. "That's not under our control," the Natural Resources Minister said. "It's like when they ask us what the price of oil will be next year."
He said the Liberals have been as clear as they can be about the path to pipeline approval. "There is a very clear way forward. … The proponents have certainty as to what the timelines are. We've laid out what criteria will be used when the government makes its decision on all of these projects."
Mr. Mulroney has begun sounding the alarm about the logjam facing major proposed pipelines. He is warning that the regulatory delays may end up killing pipeline projects and is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to use his office to help clear the path for the construction of these megaprojects that could generate long-term jobs for Canada.
In an interview on CTV's Question Period with The Globe and Mail's Robert Fife that aired on Sunday, Mr. Mulroney talked of the need for Mr. Trudeau to act as a persuader-in-chief for megaproject development and assuage pipeline concerns raised by aboriginal groups, environmental activists and provincial leaders.
In speech last week, the former prime minister criticized the Liberal government's slow-going approach to regulatory approval of these projects.
Mr. Trudeau has said his government wants to be a "responsible mediator" rather than a "cheerleader."
Mr. Mulroney, speaking to the Business Council of Canada, a lobby group, last week, said the Liberals are not helping by allowing the regulatory reviews of such projects to expand without clear limits. "By arbitrarily extending the scope, the time and the expense of the regulatory reviews, the government is actually injecting more uncertainty into the process and undermining the credibility of the regulatory institutions charged with that responsibility," he said.
"There is a growing risk that, due to protracted delays, mounting opposition, escalating costs and the lack of distinct political support, essential pipeline projects may die stillborn – just like the ill-fated Mackenzie [Valley] Pipeline – with severe damage to a vital sector of our economy that is already reeling from depressed prices."