Budget shines on resource sector, environmental groups get more scrutiny

The Canadian finance minister delivered a budget for the resource sector, promising faster project approvals and changes to immigration to increase manpower, while enviromental groups will receive closer scrutiny from the Canadian Revenue Agency.

Tabling the budget on Thursday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced that his government was going to take the uncertainty out of project assessments.

"We will streamline the review process for such projects, according to the following principle: one project, one review, completed in a clearly defined time period," said Flaherty.(Read an extended excerpt from Budget 2012 explaining changes to the resource sector approval process.)

To address the manpower shortage in the oilsands, Flaherty said changes will be made to the immigration system. The government said it will better align the Temporary Foreign Worker Program with labour market demands. There will also be improvements to employment insurance and Aboriginal education.

The government is also taking on charities with a political bent. The budget adds $8 million to the Canada Revenue Agency to, in the government's words, enhance transparency and accountability.

"Recently, concerns have been raised that some charities may not be respecting the rules regarding political activities. There have also been calls for greater public transparency related to the political activities of charities, including the extent to which they may be funded by foreign sources," says the government in chapter four of its 2012 budget plan.

"It is also proposed that the Income Tax Act be amended to restrict the extent to which charities may fund the political activities of other qualified donees, and to introduce new sanctions for charities that exceed the limits on political activities, or that fail to provide complete and accurate information in relation to any aspect of their annual return."

Writing for Macleans, columnist Paul Wells believes the government is itching for a fight:

Who has raised concerns about political activities and foreign funding by charities? Ethical Oil and its affiliated Our Decision campaign, run by Conservatives with close ties to Harper’s government. Now, Ethical Oil isn’t a charity. Doesn’t claim to be. Tides Canada does. It takes money from outside Canada (environmentalism being a global movement and all) and spends it on political advocacy to oppose oil sands and pipeline projects. This budget announces measures to make those activities harder.

This is not my theory. It was cheerfully explained to me by a government staffer in the budget lockup. The Kneecap Tides Canada Provision (my name, not Finance’s), incidentally, is tucked away at the end of Chapter 4, “Sustainable Social Programs and a Secure Retirement.”

Other highlights in the budget for natural resources were the following:

  • Support for junior mineral exploration by extending the temporary 15-per-cent Mineral Exploration Tax Credit for flow-through share investors for an additional year.
  • Actions to improve access to modern, reliable seismic data for offshore resource development.
  • $12.3 million over two years to continue to assess diamonds in the North
  • System-wide legislative improvements to the review process for major economic projects to achieve the goal of “one project, one review” in a clearly defined time period for major economic projects.
  • $165 million over two years for responsible resource development that creates jobs while protecting the environment.