Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More Looking at the Cabinet Shuffle - Specifically Natural Resource Operations

Someone commented that there are some benefits to the new Ministry of Natural Resource Operations, specifically in being making life easier for independent power production.   This may be the case, but I am not convinced as it does not deal with BC Hydro's relationship to IPP projects.   It may help, but I think that it would have made more sense for all energy related issues to be their own ministry and not split between two.   As it stands there is a lot of policy that needs to be changed and tweaked with respect to independent power production and this will take place in a separate ministry.

The comment was also raised that this ministry would make for a one stop shop for aboriginal consultation issues.   This may help in a few instances where an existing ministry had a weak aboriginal relations branch, but in general the Ministry of Forests, Ministry of Energy and Mines, the Oil and Gas Commission and BC Hydro all have had strong units working on aboriginal issues.

Will the new ministry be able to deal with aboriginal issues effectively?  I suspect it will be able to but not because of the structure but because of the existing knowledge base that is coming into the ministries.

Natural Resource Operations is being sold as a one stop shop for business which will allow BC to attract more global investment.   I have real trouble understanding how this will happen.   Foresty and the oil and gas energy sector are not suffering from attracting investment.   Forestry has had a tough number of years but BC has seen some dramatic investment in the business in the last ten years.  Oil and gas is still doing well.  These industries, a large bulk of our natural resource operations in BC, would not seem to gain any benefit from the new structure.

Mining needs large amounts of capital investment for a new mine to open, the process takes years and years and there are numerous hurdles for any proposed mine to clear before it can open.   Nothing of what I see in the new ministry leads me to believe the approval process for mines will be improved at all.   The biggest two issues for any new mine are the environmental assessment and aboriginal consultation.  

When there are major problems the issues need to be raised with a more senior level within a ministry and the policy has to be examined.   These people would now no longer seem to be connected to the day to day operations as they would seem to be in completely different ministries.

MNRO seems to have swallowed up ILMB and it may no longer exist as an entity of its own.   Steve Carr, CEO of ILMB, will now be a deputy minister in the new ministry.   ILMB is the shadow of what was the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management which did an amazing job in the first term of the Liberal government in consultation on land use planning.  Steve Carr has been very good at ILMB and with him being one of the deputy ministers of the new ministry gives me some comfort.   His co deputy minister is Doug Konkin who will effectively be the DM for forestry in my opinion.  He is also some one I have confidence in.   So it would seem the senior leadership of the ministry is a good one, but can they work with the structure?

The Ministry of Natural Resource Operations is going to have some huge problems with structure.   I have no idea how they will structure it but the two most likely directions are both problematic.  First is to integrate all the staff from all the previous ministries into one hierarchical structure.  This approach is problematic because there are large numbers of very specialized staff that currently answer to people that understand their area of expertise, a forester will have trouble overseeing a geologist.    The other structure would be to have many, many small branches that all report up their own chains of authority.   This approach would ensure there are no benefits or synergies to the change and in fact there will be more operational units in the government.

Functionally the staff of the Ministry of Natural Resource Operations, Ministry of Forests, Mines and Lands, Ministry of Energy and Ministry of the Environment will have to spend a lot of time working across ministries. Civil servants are going to have regularly seek comments and advice from people outside of their unit, office, chain of command or ministry.   In a worst case scenario policy will be created in one ministry without it making sense on the operational level.

So either we have a streamlined structure that has people in charge of things they know nothing about or we have a significantly more bureaucratic structure overall.   I fail to see the benefit of either.   I suspect the second is likely what we will end up with.

A few random things I noticed:

  • Range is now back with the Ministry of Agriculture and no longer with forestry operations.   The original change was done because range land and the timber harvesting land base overlapped almost completely and there would be a synergy in combining them.  It also meant that there range was in a ministry that had people doing aboriginal consultation.   Now they will have to develop some small aboriginal relations unit in the Ministry of Agriculture.
  • Land use planning is in the Ministry of Regional Economic and Skills Development.  This may mean this is not land use planning for Crown Lands, for the moment I will assume it is.   To have this function in this ministry does not seem to make sense to me.   The higher level plans in this province are the overlapping world of operations and policy and this is now outside of ministries that deal with either in the context of natural resources.


Anonymous said...

Campbell tried this approach back in 2001 when he created the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management (MSRM)and downsized the Environment Ministry to "Water,Land, and Air Protection". It didn't work then so it should be interesting to see what he will do differently this time.

Bernard said...

The change in 2001 worked very well, it changed the Ministry of the Environment into a serious protection of the environment ministry.

At the same time MSRM was outside of the other dirt ministries and could very effectively manage land use planning by being the referee between the other ministries and by being only responsible for the planning aspect of lands.

With the loss of MSRM we have lost the focus on land use planning.

With the loss of WLAP, we lost a ministry that had protection as its core.

This change is very different because it divides the dirt ministries horizontally.

Unknown said...

There will probably be a lot of resistance from agents in charge of land use planning and environmental assessment to move over to MNRO. These people have created a little fiefdom of their own with the help of ideologically supportive superiors - and they will be loath to move over and be told what to do in a larger context that includes economics and revenue. Some of these low-lying agents have gone rogue and interpret the regulations in very creative ways and are not used to be questioned.

Maybe this was the reason that MSRM failed.

It is imporant to understand there can be a systemic ideological bias at the lower levels of the agencies, and until this bias gets to be exposed, it will have a life and conscience of its own - and not necessary in tune with the democratic mandate.