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Bill 22 proposes end to cabinet oversight for royalty rate changes

Changes proposed under a new omnibus bill would give the energy minister sole approval over changes to royalties paid by companies regulated by Alberta's Mines and Minerals Act, NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Monday. 

Government says legislation already in place would prevent rate changes for 10 years

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley says Bill 22 leaves the approval of royalty rates solely with the minister of energy. (Alberta NDP )

Changes proposed under a new omnibus bill would give the energy minister sole approval over changes to royalties paid by companies regulated by Alberta's Mines and Minerals Act, says NDP Leader Rachel Notley.

Bill 22, introduced in the Alberta legislature on Thursday, aims to cut what the government deems as "red tape" in six different ministries. 

The bill proposes amendments to the Mines and Mineral Act that would remove the requirement for cabinet to approve changes through an order known as a Lieutenant Governor in Council.

Bill 22 removes the requirement for cabinet to approve royalty rates, leaving the responsibility solely with the minister of energy. 

Notley called the change "jaw-dropping" while discussing the proposed change with reporters on Monday. 

"This is how Albertans get value for the resources that we all own," she said. "And we cannot have them slip backwards into a situation where we can have backroom deals and backroom conversations with the minister who can with a flick of a pen make allowances for different folks."

Notley raised the issue with Premier Jason Kenney in Monday's question period. Kenney, in his response, didn't address Notley's question, instead talking about how her government  hired an Ontario company to run its energy efficiency plan.

Under the current system, a Lieutenant Governor in Council or order in council is reported to the public. It isn't clear how future changes to royalty rates will be disclosed if Bill 22 is passed in its present form.

Bill 22 also removes the requirement for oilsands projects approved by the Alberta Energy Regulator to get a nod from the provincial cabinet. 

Royalty guarantees 

The requirement for cabinet to approve royalty rates goes back to at least 1949. Bill 22 aims to amend section 9 of the current version of the Mines and Minerals Act. 

Kavi Bal, press secretary for Energy Minister Sonya Savage, said in an email  to CBC News the proposed changes would allow geothermal and lithium projects to move quickly.

He said the Royalty Guarantee Act, which was passed last year, remains in effect. That act prevents the government from making major changes to oil and gas royalties for at least 10 years. 

"This legislation is not intended to make changes to our royalty structures for oil and gas," Bal said of Bill 22. "Section 9 has always given the minister this authority, this amendment only removes cabinet process.

"The minister will always be accountable to the premier, cabinet and most importantly Albertans."

With files from Janet French

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