Monday, November 8, 2010

John Baird has temporarily taken over the Mackenzie Valley pipeline file, along with the environment portfolio, after Jim Prentice announced his resignation from cabinet on Thursday.John Baird has temporarily taken over the Mackenzie Valley pipeline file, along with the environment portfolio, after Jim Prentice announced his resignation from cabinet on Thursday.(Canadian Press)
New federal Environment Minister John Baird will take over the Mackenzie Valley pipeline file from Jim Prentice, CBC News has learned.

Officials with the environment minister's office confirmed Friday that Baird, who will hold the Environment post on an interim basis, will also take over the pipeline portfolio temporarily from Prentice, who had held the file since 2006.

Prentice announced his resignation as environment minister on Thursday. He will also step down as MP for Calgary Centre-North in January, in order to take up an executive position at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
A consortium of companies led by Imperial Oil wants to build a 1,200-kilometre natural gas pipeline from the Beaufort Delta, through the Northwest Territories to northern Alberta, where it would connect with existing markets.

One of the pipeline's proponents, Fred Carmichael of the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, said he is not concerned with the ministerial handoff from Prentice to Baird.

"I think that there's enough other people involved on that file within the government — deputy ministers, what have you — that I'm sure that Mr. Baird is well-briefed on it, or will be," Carmichael told CBC News on Friday.

The National Energy Board is currently reviewing the proposal. It was supposed to release a decision in September, but it has been waiting for final documents from the federal and N.W.T. governments.

Held onto portfolio

Prentice was first handed the Mackenzie pipeline file in 2006, when he was minister of Indian and Northern Affairs. He took the file with him when he became industry minister in 2007 and environment minister in 2008.

Carmichael said he does not believe Baird's handling of the portfolio will have an impact on whether or not the pipeline project proceeds.

"It's still the same government in power here, so, you know, Mr. Baird will take his direction from the top down, the same as Mr. Prenctice," he said. "I don't see how there'd be much change there."
But Ian Doig, an energy analyst in Alberta, said he believes Prentice's resignation could show a lack of confidence in the pipeline project, which has been in the regulatory process for years.

"It can't be good news. I'm convinced in my own mind [that] if this was going to go ahead, he'd be sticking around," Doig told CBC News on Thursday.

In Yellowknife, N.W.T. Energy Minister Bob McLeod said the pipeline file will be worse off now — regardless of who takes it over — because Prentice had been involved with the project for a long time.

"Like anything else, it means that you'll have another minister with a steep learning curve," McLeod said Thursday.

"He'll have to become familiar with the players and the file and so on, whereas minister Prentice had been on it since day one, so he was very familiar with all aspects of it."

Doig said the change of command could present an opportunity for a new perspective and a fresh approach to the project.

But Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus said he is not feeling optimistic about the whole project regardless of which federal minister is handling the file.

"Whether the pipeline goes ahead, that's still to be seen," Erasmus said Friday.

"I'm just coming from the east and a lot of talk there is that there seems to be a surplus of oil out there, especially through the shale oil, so [the] Mackenzie Valley Pipeline might not be viable."

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