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Western premiers want to merge environmental assessment process with feds

VANCOUVER - Western Canada's premiers emerged from their annual conference Wednesday with a request to streamline the environmental assessment process.

VANCOUVER - Western Canada's premiers emerged from their annual conference Wednesday with a request to streamline the environmental assessment process.

The leaders say major environmental projects should be assessed just once, as opposed to multiple times at the provincial and federal level. Doing away with duplicate processes would reduce project wait times and costs, while maintaining strict environmental requirements, they told reporters following two days of talks in Vancouver.

But with many Western Canadians on heightened alert following the massive oil spill on the U.S. Gulf Coast, the premiers denied any assertion such a move could water down the environmental assessment process.

"No one is suggesting that we should not have thorough, comprehensive and scientifically sound environmental assessments," British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell said.

"We think you can do that with one scientifically sound and thorough assessment."

Campbell said he knows of one B.C. project that was assessed for almost 10 years.

"That's longer than it took to fight two world wars and win them," he told reporters.

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach agreed the environmental assessment process needs fixing.

"Today, there's a real competition for investment, competition for jobs," he said.

"Whichever jurisdiction enhances the process so we don't duplicate, we use good scientific evidence, and we conclude the assessment in appropriate time (is at an advantage)."

Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie said his territory already has a single assessment process in place and environmental standards have not been watered down at all.

The premiers also stressed the importance of using Western Canada's geographic location and role as gateway to Asia to the region's benefit.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said his province has much to offer in that regard.

"We sell a lot of pot ash to China. We have about 26 to 30 per cent of the world's production of pot ash in any given year from our province," he said.

"Roughly the same number of uranium, 26 to 30 per cent of uranium. We're working with our own federal government, who are doing a good job to try and develop a nuclear co-operation agreement with China."

The leaders also signed a declaration asking Ottawa to pursue more Open Skies agreements to increase the West's ability to attract investors, trade and tourists.

And they urged the federal government not to cap the number of skilled immigrants allowed to work in Western Canada, and pledged to continue their co-operation on energy supply and export initiatives to the United States.

The premiers also agreed to continue working to improve education quality for aboriginals, called on Ottawa to help reduce the average sodium intake of Canadians, and announced their support for the continuation of the country's Own the Podium program.

Own the Podium is widely credited with helping Canada achieve its record gold-medal haul at Vancouver's 2010 Winter Olympics.

On the first day of the conference, the premiers introduced measures to conserve and manage the country's fresh water supply.

They also asked Ottawa to shore up support for Prairie farmers whose land has been hit by severe floods.

 
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