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N.L. premier says he will take Ottawa to task over joint management of resources

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — As senators debate the fate of Ottawa's bill on resource project assessments, Newfoundland and Labrador's premier says he'll do whatever it takes to ensure his province remains globally competitive.

Premier Dwight Ball said Tuesday that he would be prepared to invoke an arbitration clause in the Atlantic Accord if he thinks Ottawa isn't respecting the deal's joint management principle around offshore oil and gas resources.

"It is a vital way to resolve disputes, and you better believe that we are prepared to use it, because we share the same goals as you do," the premier told industry representatives attending an oil and gas conference in St. John's.

"We want to build on our tremendous success to realize our true and abundant potential here in Newfoundland and Labrador."

He repeated his government's wish that Bill C-69 not slow down the environmental assessment process.

Ball said having a business environment that's attractive to global companies is important for the province and the country. He said he wants the province to become a global leader in the offshore industry, boasting that its petroleum products are cleaner than those from other sources.

The premier said his Liberal government wants to rapidly increase offshore oil and gas development, with a goal to double overall production to more than 650,000 barrels a day by 2030.

The Atlantic Accord is a federal-provincial agreement on offshore resource revenues. It was reviewed in April with a deal that will direct funds from Ottawa's share in the Hibernia oilfield to the province, adding up to $2.5 billion over 38 years

After his speech Tuesday, Ball told reporters he would prefer not to invoke the accord's arbitration clause but will do what's necessary to protect his province's jurisdiction over resource management.

Last week, the premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories sent a letter to Justin Trudeau saying the prime minister would be threatening national unity if he did not accept every Senate amendment to Bill C-69.

Ball, one of Canada's two remaining Liberal premiers, said he received a copy of the letter but his government chose to send separate correspondence to Ottawa, saying the province's situation with its offshore resources is unique.

"It doesn't necessarily mean that we don't share some similar concerns," he said.

The premier's office provided copies of two letters sent to Ottawa in recent weeks.

Both emphasized the importance of the Atlantic Accord's joint management regime, and made mention of two key sticking points for the province — that exploration wells be exempt from detailed impact assessments and that the province's offshore regulator have a greater presence on review panels.

A letter dated June 11 from provincial Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady to federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the suggested changes were "imperative."

An earlier letter sent May 30 by Ball to the Senate sponsor of Bill C-69, Grant Mitchell, said his government's support for the bill depends on the assurance that the province's natural resources minister will be involved in the development of regulations.

In the House of Assembly later on Tuesday, opposition Tory leader Ches Crosbie called Ball's reference to the arbitration clause "nonsensical" in the context of Bill C-69. Crosbie has accused the premier of being too soft on the federal Liberals in negotiations, saying he risks diluting the province's powers under the Atlantic Accord.

Provincial NDP Leader Alison Coffin raised last November's spill of 250,000 litres of oil into the sea during a production restart at Husky Energy's SeaRose platform, about 350 kilometres off the coast from St. John’s.

Coffin said the Liberals' attempt to reduce assessments for exploration shows a lax attitude toward the industry's environmental risks. "I ask the premier, why would he put our green environment at risk for the sake of expediency?" she said.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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