Why Joe Oliver is rocking the boat

Canada’s federal Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, came out of the closet this week by making public comments unambiguously supportive of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway project.

Shocking? Yes and no. No, because it’s been implicitly clear for a long time that Harper’s government supports Northern Gateway. As early as 2008,  Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel was telling investors and analysts as much. And there have been plenty of public comments from federal Ministers, including the Prime, denouncing the idea of a north coast oil tanker ban and waxing poetic about the need to ship more energy to Asia.

Shocking yes, because in the past all comments implied support without actually stating it. The reason being that explicit comments would pre-judge the regulatory review process, undermining its professional and public credibility – credibility that is arguably essential if the rubber stamp is to keep stamping.

So Oliver’s comments do some damage to Harper’s overall agenda re: streamlined and expedited resource extraction. Why invite that damage?

My guess is that Enbridge’s project backers, China included, needed some public reassurance that the feds are on side before they sign tentative commercial agreements for Gateway, something Enbridge has been lacking all along.

First Nation and public opposition has scared the project backers, and they wanted Canada’s feds to allay their anxiety by putting some skin in the game. Oliver, for his part, has now delivered.

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