Alberta must continue to cut ‘green’ red tape

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Appeared in the Edmonton Sun, November 19, 2019
Alberta must continue to cut ‘green’ red tape

The Kenney government is reportedly merging Alberta’s two departments responsible for environmental monitoring and climate change policy. One might think the overlap in areas of interest is obvious, but not everyone does. Keith Stewart of Greenpeace pulls out the dreaded D-word: “This is what climate denial looks like when it is in power,” he said. “Disappearing the department won’t make the climate crisis go away.”

Meanwhile Duncan Kenyon of the Pembina Institute promises bravely to “continue to try to work with the government of Alberta… But since taking office, every decision they have made on climate change will result in increased pollution.”

For its part, the Alberta government says the changes will improve efficiency. “The primary drivers and intended outcomes of this reorganization include enhanced business integration, the achievement of efficiencies, and providing better support to achieve government priorities,” said Bev Yee, deputy minister of Alberta environment and parks. “This reorganization will bring many of the department’s brightest scientific minds under one division and eliminate some of the administrative overlap that can prevent them from doing their best work.”

This is exactly the kind of regulatory streamlining and consolidation Alberta needs. As we observed early in 2018, there’s an urgent need for regulatory reform, especially in Alberta, where red tape is strangling a major contributor to Canada’s economy. Yes, falling oil prices have contributed to Alberta’s troubles, but many other factors affect investment in Alberta—and many of them are regulatory.

For example, according to the Fraser Institute’s 2019 Canada-US Energy Sector Competitiveness Survey of oil and gas investors, some 80 per cent of survey respondents indicated that uncertainty around environmental regulations would deter them from investing in Alberta.

In Texas, by comparison, environmental regulatory uncertainty would only deter about 9 per cent of respondents.

The same holds true for regulatory duplication and inconsistencies, where some 65 per cent of respondents said that investment in Alberta would be deterred by the overlap, a far higher share of respondents than for Texas (8 per cent).

Looking at the bigger picture comparing Canada and the United States, the survey findings are equally clear. Of the 20 top jurisdictions for attracting investment, not a single jurisdiction in Canada made the top 10. And 65 per cent (on average) of respondents expressed some deterrence to investment because of environmental regulations in Canada compared to only 37 per cent for the U.S.

On taxation, 60 per cent of respondents (on average) reported some level of deterrence to investment in Alberta compared to only 32 per cent for the U.S.

While the Kenney government’s consolidation of two overlapping government departments into one is a good first step, more must be done to resolve duplicative regulatory efforts, to reduce the overall mass of regulatory burden from the oil and gas industry, and to position Alberta (and indeed, Canada) to be competitive with its neighbour to the south—a neighbour busily engaged in massive regulatory reform and energy industry expansion.

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