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Atlantic politics erupting over offshore wind legislation

OTTAWA — The Atlantic Liberal caucus is slamming the Conservative party for opposing new legislation that would extend the Atlantic accords to include renewable energy.
Labour and Seniors Minister Seamus O’Regan arrives to a Liberal caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. The Atlantic Liberal caucus is slamming the Conservative Party for opposing new legislation that would extend the Atlantic accords to include renewable energy and not fossil fuels.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — The Atlantic Liberal caucus is slamming the Conservative party for opposing new legislation that would extend the Atlantic accords to include renewable energy.

"Our caucus views this as an attack on Atlantic Canada," said Nova Scotia MP Kody Blois, who serves as the party's regional caucus chair.

The Conservatives reject any accusation they're standing against the region.

They insist any opposition they have to the bill is not because they're against economic development, but rather due to their belief the bill would add red tape and give politicians power to kill offshore oil drilling in protected areas.

The latest East Coast partisan melee comes as the region, which eight years ago was painted entirely Liberal red, has increasingly shown signs of displeasure with the governing party. 

The Conservatives see lots of opportunity in the four Atlantic provinces, where inflation and some unique effects of climate policy caused energy prices to rise more than elsewhere in the country in July.

About three-quarters of the 24 Liberal MPs from the four Atlantic provinces staged a news conference on Parliament Hill Wednesday to call out the Conservatives for opposing Bill C-49. 

The legislation, which was introduced in May, came up for its first significant debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

"I'm shocked that we're even here," said Labour Minister and Newfoundland MP Seamus O'Regan.

"We do not have time for foolishness, for utter foolishness, or partisan debates that are not founded in reality."

The accords are two separate pieces of legislation first passed in the 1980s to establish a singular regulatory process and revenue-sharing arrangement for offshore oil and gas development in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.

Canada and the two provinces agreed in April 2022 to update both federal and provincial legislation to add offshore renewable energy, as both Nova Scotia and Newfoundland look to harness the wind off their coastlines. 

The government says it has the support of both Nova Scotia and Newfoundland for the bill, and that similar bills will be introduced at the provincial level.

O'Regan and Housing Minister Sean Fraser, a Nova Scotia MP, both said the federal bill is just an evolution of energy development that will allow both provinces to take advantage of massive investment opportunities in the transition to clean electricity.

They stressed that it is an investment and climate action opportunity rolled into one, for a region that knows first-hand the brutality climate change is bringing with it.

Fraser said it's a "billion-dollar investment" opportunity that will bring good jobs to the Atlantic. 

But he said timing is of the essence because lots of competition exists for the investments, and if Canada doesn't want to miss them, it needs to pass the bill allowing for offshore wind projects. He said the bill is just "the next step in the process."

"Frankly, I thought this was going to be the simplest piece of legislation that all parties to get behind," said Fraser.

"This is the kind of thing that inspired me to get involved in politics in the first place. And when I see the opposition making a bonehead decision to oppose green energy in my home province, it's the kind of thing that inspires me to continue my work on Parliament Hill."

Alberta MP Shannon Stubbs, the Conservative critic for natural resources, dismissed allegations that the Tories oppose the bill because they oppose green development.

Instead, she said the bill will result in longer approval times for new projects, and allow for "potential arbitrary decision-making" to end existing and future offshore oil and gas projects, as well as renewable projects.

"This bill is an attack to end offshore petroleum drilling, as is the government's track record, and it will also hold up the development of renewables too," said Stubbs.

New Brunswick Conservative Jake Stewart said the idea of a single regulator for offshore renewables makes sense the same way it did for oil and gas. But he said the government's process is going to take too long to identify suitable sites for offshore wind.

"By the time the current process concludes, at the pace they are going, the opportunity will likely have passed (in) Canada anyway," said Stewart. 

He added that he has concerns about the bill putting Indigenous consultation in the hands of the regulator, and whether that will open up its decisions to court challenges.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2023.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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