By Pierre Poilievre and Shannon Stubbs
When the COVID-19 lockdown ends, the economy will need a defibrillator to shock it back to life. The same old medicine of borrowing and spending government money to “stimulate the economy” will not work. Consuming wealth without producing it will only end in crippling debt for our economy. Sure, targeted, temporary and timely cash to households and businesses may keep the economy alive, but only wealth-generating projects that pay for themselves will lift it to its feet and back to health.
An easy place to start is with private sector resource projects awaiting federal approval. There are roughly $20 billion worth of them according to public filings with the Canadian Energy Regulator and the Impact Assessment Agency.
For example, NOVA Gas Transmission Ltd is proposing a $1.5 billion, 344km natural gas pipeline that comes with three compressor station units. The Canadian Energy Regulator announced in February that it was “recommending that Federal cabinet approve” the project.
Cabinet could do so in one meeting. It should just get on with it.
There is also the massive $5 billion Gazoduq Natural Gas Pipeline Project in Saguenay that will fuel the new $9 billion Énergie Saguenay LNG liquefaction complex. The combined $14 billion project has moved far along in the approval process. But regulators are nitpicking and wasting time as usual and rail blockades and political instability recently caused Warren Buffett to pull his $4 billion from the project. The government can remove the obstacles that scared Buffett away and the project can find new investment. To get it done, Ottawa could put extra resources into the Impact Assessment Agency, demand it speed up the process and impose legal time limits on decision-making. The $14 billion and 6,000 jobs would be worth it.
Then there is the Cedar LNG project, led by the Haisla First Nation, which would “construct and operate a floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) processing facility and marine export terminal near Kitimat, British Columbia,” according to the Canadian Impact Assessment Agency.
The federal government rightly delegated approval of this project to the BC Environmental Assessment Office. Now, it should give the provincial office more resources and a mandate to fast-track a decision so the $2 billion construction project can start.
There are roughly a dozen such projects waiting on government and probably dozens more that would come forward if investors could foresee quick decisions.
Pessimists will say private projects like these will not go ahead in this terrible COVID economy—so approval no longer matters. Possibly. But most would go ahead. The world will still need natural gas—and oil—for decades to come according to the International Energy Agency: “Natural gas demand grew at a remarkable clip last year, increasing by 4.6 per cent, its highest growth rate since the beginning of the decade. Future growth will be more measured, supported by economic expansion in emerging markets—especially in Asia—and sustained policy support in the People’s Republic of China to battle air pollution.”
Times New Roman, serif;”>These projects build assets that will last 25 years. A short-term pandemic does nothing to change their viability. Even if investors decide to cancel one or two, the federal government would have done no harm to approve them.
The major obstacles to such projects thus far have been government and politics. The cabinet can remove both now, to unleash construction by late this year, when our economy will desperately need productive, private sector work that generates revenues rather than costs for the government.
Sound a little too rushed? Consider this: Parliament passed $100 billion in new emergency COVID-19 spending in one day last week. Surely, it can show the same urgency to allow $20 billion in private sector economic stimulus that costs taxpayers nothing.
Pierre Poilievre is the Conservative Party’s finance critic and Shannon Stubbs its natural resources critic.