Conservatives and NDP battle in war of words over competing energy policies

OTTAWA – Federal Conservatives and New Democrats are battling over national energy policy with competing economic claims.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver told the Vancouver Board of Trade early Wednesday that Canada is in a global race to secure markets for our oil and gas — an opportunity the Conservative described as “perishable.”

Oliver said time is of the essence and warned against a proposed NDP overhaul of the environmental review process, calling it “a recipe for instability and uncertainty at the very moment when businesses are deciding whether to make multibillion-dollar investments in the B.C. natural gas sector.”

The National Energy Board has approved three export licences for liquefied natural gas, or LNG, that clear the way for exporting 36 million tonnes of LNG a year, Oliver noted.

Those exports could begin as early as 2015, and another five west coast applications for LNG exports are under review.

Mulcair, speaking Wednesday to the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa, called the energy sector “the motor of the Canadian economy,” while arguing the Conservatives are squandering export opportunities by not shoring up the country’s environmental credibility.

He said the Conservative rhetoric pitting economic development against environmental stewardship is short-sighted and “a false choice. It’s an approach that’s stuck in the past.”

Mulcair accused the Harper government of “dismantling every major piece of environmental protection, and hurting Canada’s economic development at the very same time.”

The New Democrats are proposing binding environmental assessment reviews of major resource projects, reversing Conservative legislation that puts the final call in cabinet’s hands.

Both the Conservatives and Liberals pounced on Mulcair’s proposal as incoherent, given the NDP’s staunch opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

A Canadian environmental review panel gave Keystone the green light in 2010 — yet Mulcair remains on record as being opposed to the $5.4-billion project, Oliver said.

New Democrats also oppose the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat, B.C., which remains under review, but support the proposed West-to-East pipeline from Alberta to Atlantic Canada, for which a review has not yet begun.

“Incoherence does not inspire confidence,” Oliver said in Vancouver.

“The bottom line is that no project will proceed unless it is safe for Canadians and safe for the environment…. However, unlike critics who say ‘no’ to resource projects before hearing from our regulators, we do not make decisions until independent, scientific reviews are complete.”

Mulcair would also revive the popular home retrofit program and is reiterating long-standing NDP policy to put a price on carbon through a cap-and-trade system.

“A New Democratic government will redirect a billion dollars a year in fossil fuel subsidies, and re-invest that money in clean energy,” he added.

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