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Minister defends Bill 75



Olympic projects not necessarily candidates for Significant Projects Streamlining Act

Facilities and projects related to the 2010 Olympics are not necessarily candidates for the provincial government’s new Significant Projects Streamlining Act the Minister of State for Deregulation said last week.

"I didn’t say that (Olympic projects were candidates)," Kevin Falcon said in an interview with Pique Newsmagazine.

"I think Heartland projects will be priorities, as the Heartland strategy is a government priority."

The Significant Projects Streamlining Act has garnered a lot of attention since it was introduced as Bill 75 earlier this month. Some fear the act will allow the provincial government to designate many projects as having "provincial significance" and therefore subject to a speedier approval process regardless of local concerns.

BC Facts.Org, which tracks the provincial government’s environmental record and is supported by groups such as the David Suzuki Foundation, the Western Canada Wilderness Committee and the Sierra Club of Canada, says Bill 75 caps "an intensive two months of anti-environmental legislation."

David Hanley, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says Bill 75 is "more about ribbon-cutting than cutting red tape," and will "put political decisions exactly where the Liberal government promised never to intrude: in the selection of winners and losers in the marketplace."

Meanwhile the B.C. Chamber of Commerce has called Bill 75 "a bold and creative solution to address this province’s needs for economic investment."

Chamber President John Winter has been critical of the province’s Community Charter legislation because the chamber feels it puts too much authority in the hands of local governments. He feels the Significant Projects Streamlining Act answers many of the chamber’s concerns.

"(Bill 75) will re-enforce the notion established in the new Community Charter that while local government does have a greater level of accountability, it also has a responsibility to consider the interests of the citizens of B.C. generally," Winter said in a news release.

Falcon says the legislation is actually a good tool for local governments.

"Lots of mayors want to use this," he said. "The provincial government is often the one that slows the (approval) process."

Falcon said the act imposes discipline on local and provincial governments and authorities, ensuring the review process won’t drag on forever.

"It’s not intended to override local government guidelines."

"It could mean a quicker ‘no’," Falcon said. "Business would rather hear a no in 30 days than a maybe in six months."

The act gives cabinet the sole authority to decide which projects have provincial significance, but the minister said he didn’t expect more than "a handful" of cases to go to cabinet each year.

"For projects to be considered they have to be significant, their impacts and benefits go beyond local. They must have a regional impact," Falcon said.

He added that the act is not inconsistent with the Community Charter or the current Local Government Act. Both clearly state that the independence of local governments must be balanced by the province’s responsibility to act in the best interests of the citizens of B.C.

"The reality is that there is often only one chance for someone knocking on the door to invest. We can’t let red tape block that," Falcon said.

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