It’s a fair question: how can you be both an impartial regulator and an investor in the same project?
It’s a question that can be asked quite easily about the province’s offshore oil industry, where the provincial government has taken an equity stake in several projects and has to work with its oil industry partners — while also somehow being responsible for oversight of parts of the industry.
In a province like this one, where the economy is fairly small and the provincial government seems to have to be involved in so much, it’s a question that arises again and again.
For example, Grieg NL. Grieg wants to build a massive salmon aquaculture project in Placentia Bay — a project that the provincial government is very keen on, and has promised to invest millions of dollars in. Yet at the same time, the provincial government has to determine whether the project is acceptable under provincial environmental assessment legislation.
The provincial government has already approved the project once, only to have that approval overturned by the courts, because a judge determined that the approval (which clashed with recommendations put forward by assessment staff) was unreasonable, and ordered that a full environmental impact statement should be done.
The province is still fighting that decision, appealing it to a higher court — and at the same time, it’s now serving as the regulator for a project it clearly feels should have gone ahead in the first place.
Now, to the latest bit.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF), which successfully launched the court bid to overturn the first approval, has reviewed the Grieg environmental impact statement and says it has found a set of glaring shortcomings. Among the problems, according to the ASF? A lack of basic field work and research on migratory patterns of wild salmon, a failure to describe how they would monitor the impacts of the project, and a lack on information about how the company planned to guarantee that none of the aquaculture fish could breed with wild stocks.
Problem is, you could consider that the province views those issues as moot, even though it was the province that originally requested the work.
Because the province is also actively arguing in court that the project should have been released from the environmental assessment process long ago — and, essentially, is arguing that none of the work it required Grieg to do is really necessary.
In fact, the province has argued that if it wins its case, the EIS can be stopped and the project can simply be released from further review.
That does not sound like the position of a disinterested and impartial regulator.
It sounds more like the position that might be taken by a business partner.
Which, in a sense, it actually is.