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Stewart Muir: Alberta initiative offers British Columbia a path forward on eco-friendly projects

Business Council of Alberta proposes a new environment for eco-friendly projects
A new Albertan project paves the way for British Columbian net-zero development

The race to 2050 feels like running a marathon on a treadmill - lots of huffing, puffing, but little forward motion. We have a bevy of projects waiting in the wings, all poised to help Canada reach net zero by mid-century. But our current regulatory rigmarole might as well be an overzealous bouncer, stiff-arming these projects from entering the eco-friendly party.

The startling fact is that Canada needs to invest between $125-$140 billion every year until 2050 to reach our net zero ambitions. But with our current project review and permitting processes, that goal appears to be teetering on the brink. Comparing the necessity of getting many large things done with the likelihood that our gatekeeper processes cannot approve them quickly enough at the outset points to a logjam that must be broken up.

This situation is highlighted in a new report out Thursday from the Business Council of Alberta that’s as apropos for B.C.’s project landscape as it is for our neighbours next door.

The pancaking of regulations, where governments pile new rules atop existing ones, has turned our regulatory landscape into a bureaucratic International House of Pancakes, sans the syrupy sweetness. It's a heart-stopping stack of red-tape flapjacks that leaves investors' appetites for Canadian projects waning. I’ve been in the room to actually see industry figureheads who disagree with each other on virtually everything else come together on this one point. 

The Future Unbuilt study brings sharp insights and pragmatic solutions, and is a rare clarion call in the midst of a quagmire of well-intentioned green promises, many of which have yet to deliver stellar outcomes. It proposes a set of “needle-moving” changes to streamline the regulatory landscape and make it less of a labyrinth and more of a highway.

Future Unbuilt recommends the formation of an oversight body to manage and coordinate federal permitting, acting (one hopes) as a compass that navigates us out of the wilderness of delays and confusion. I imagine this as an overseer that ensures a synchronized dance between different federal permits, rather than today’s flapjack fiesta that is carb loading at its most extreme.

Then there are the timelines for review, which badly need a makeover. A “one size fits all” approach may work for sarongs but not for project reviews. Let's scale them according to complexity and ensure we aren't slowing down a speedboat to accommodate a freight ship.

The Future Unbuilt authors also urge that we not forget the crucial role Indigenous communities play. Expanding financial supports for their participation isn't just about equity, it's about enriching the conversation and decision-making process with diverse perspectives. It's about making the tapestry of our regulatory landscape as vibrant as the Northern Lights.

In the weeds but worth mentioning is the politicization of ministerial discretion for making key decisions about projects. It’s nothing new, this has been a problem under successive governments. Citizens have a right to know that processes of adjudicating outcomes are accessible to a broad range of society so as to balance a proper range of factors. To their credit, some key regulatory overseers have been showing signs that they too are seeing the same trends, and beginning to push for change. These promising green shoots need watering.

Moving these needles is an ambitious yet attainable goal. It needs more than a nod of approval. Required is endorsement and prioritization at the highest level of government. 

If there is a tendency to see projects as potential problems rather than desirable solutions, we should think about the price of lost opportunities. For a trade-reliant economy like Canada’s, this means broadcasting to investors that we are open for business. Technology and innovation needed to overcome environmental challenges require access to capital. We should not be forced to choose either battery plants and hydrogen or LNG and technology to improve the performance of hydrocarbon fuels. They’re all needed, and can be surprisingly interconnected. Creating a false sense of choice between various project types is a temptation to be resisted.

At Resource Works, we signed on to support Future Unbuilt because its messages resonate across Western Canada, indeed across the whole nation. Focusing on unifying outcomes, rather than divisive polarizations, is the only way that the infrastructure needed for a green future is going to get built. Future Unbuilt shows that an improved blueprint is possible. The clock is running.

Stewart Muir is CEO of the Vancouver-based Resource Works Society. He is among 13 organization heads who this week endorsed the Future Unbuilt study, which can be seen at