“We are looking for people who are interested in voluntarily leaving the public service…” When I first heard these words, I thought ‘who is going to leave the comfortable world of an indexed pension to go out and face the private sector world, a world surrounded by cutbacks, job loss and economic uncertainty?’
I recently did just that. I raised my hand and left the federal government and I don’t think I’ll be looking back. Although I started out in the consulting world, I have since worked in the federal government bureaucracy for more than ten years in various departments including Environment Canada, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, and most recently with Natural Resources Canada. From the “inside”, I was witness to the ongoing challenges industry faces with the regulatory process, waiting for projects to come to fruition.  Over those years I also saw how international policy was developed for the now has-been Kyoto Protocol, and sat on the Arctic Council subcommittee that focused on the protection of the arctic marine environment.
I joined Hill+Knowlton Strategies a month ago to lead mining and energy companies through the environmental regulatory process including issues related to Aboriginal affairs. There isn’t a day that goes by without a news story about a large energy or mining project that is being held up by such matters. It is an issue of importance not just for the future of Canada’s economy, but also for foreign investors such as China who are watching how Canada manages such complex processes to decide if Canada is worthy of investment.
Now, I’m looking forward to seeing the regulatory process from industry’s perspective. Having worked on the scientific aspects of environmental assessments (EAs) for the Mackenzie and Alaska Gas Pipeline projects from the federal government perspective, as well as the policy development process that goes with EAs, I look forward to assisting companies with identifying and preparing for the hurdles they will face.  It’s not a matter of “if” they will face these issues, but “how” they face them. Addressing issues early on in the project development phase is the smartest and most efficient way to ensure a project materializes without delay or discontent among stakeholders.
Unfortunately, Bill C-38 and its efforts to alter the decision making process on major resource projects will cause more grief for industry than I’m sure was intended.  The federal government thought it was best to not consult with key stakeholders as it drafted this legislation, a decision that will prove unwise in the long term. Aboriginal groups are now taking their right to participate in the development of such legislative rewrites to the courts. This will inevitably lead to much longer delays in the approval and delivery of projects, a situation that will affect both domestic and international audiences alike.
I volunteered out of the government to make a difference and will carry that spirit with all that I do, for the sake of those involved, as well as for the benefits to the economy and the environment. I encourage you to reach out and contact me if you have questions or comments about anything I say in this and subsequent blogs. And I look forward to providing my perspective on what I see unfolding in these changing economic times.
Kelly Cooper is an account director within our public affairs practice, based in Ottawa. She joined the Hill+Knowlton Strategies team in September 2012.