B.C. Natural Resource Super Ministry II

Combining B.C.'s resource ministries didn’t work in 2001 as the Ministry of Sustainable Natural Resource Management, and won’t work in 2010 as the Natural Resource Operations.

How is 2010’s Natural Resource Operations any different than 2001’s “super-ministry”?

Combining B.C.’s resource ministries didn’t work in 2001 as the Ministry of Sustainable Natural Resource Management, and won’t work in 2010 as the Natural Resource Operations.

On October 25, 2010, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell announced a fundamental restructuring of the organization of the B.C. government with respect to natural-resource management. The government created a new ministry, Natural Resource Operations, which takes over many of the responsibilities of existing resource agencies: Energy, Agriculture, Forests and Environment. In an internal document sent to natural-resource-sector employees, the change was described as a way to formalize the “one land manager” concept. Clients would only have to deal with one ministry, thus eliminating duplicative information exchanges and providing greater clarity for everyone. 

The main thrust of the change is to move operational responsibilities from sector-specific resource ministries to the new Ministry of Natural Resource Operations but leave the higher-level policy development within the sector-specific ministries. For example, the Oil and Gas Commission, which approves oil and gas developments, has been moved to the new ministry, but oil and gas policy remains in the Ministry of Energy. 

This is not the first time that this government has attempted to reorganize natural-resource functions to promote greater integration and efficiency in approvals. When the Campbell government came to power in 2001, it created a new “super-ministry” in the Ministry of Sustainable Natural Resource Management. While the original hope was that the new ministry would facilitate natural-resource administration, the end result was that it frustrated it. The problem was that some ministries still retained significant authority. So instead of reducing transaction costs, the net result was that there was more red tape for resource industries. The government dismantled the super-ministry in 2005, redistributing its remnants back to the pre-existing resource agencies.

Reorganizations are typically designed to address a particularly salient problem but frequently create unintended consequences. Concentrating all natural-resource operations in one ministry may facilitate project review and approvals, but separating operations from policy might create other problems. One risk is that organizational learning might become even more challenging. Policy reform should be informed by operational experience, but if the feedback from that operational experience needs to cross more organizational boundaries, it is less likely to be communicated effectively. Another risk is that policy signals might not be received as well, and it might be more difficult for policy makers to monitor implementation. 

One view is that the fundamental problem leading to the reorganization was one of financial and human-resources capacity. Former energy minister Bill Bennett included this argument in his criticism of the changes, saying, “We work the heck out of [the employees] and we don’t have enough funds . . . to do the work that actually leads to the majority of the revenue that comes in to government.”

An analysis of changes in resource ministry budgets and personnel shows a significant decline over the past several years. Budgets increased in the late 2000s and peaked in 2008 but have since declined precipitously. Perhaps the reorganization will help the government cope with these challenges, but Bennett, for one, is skeptical.

Shortly after the reorganization, Premier Campbell announced his resignation as premier and leader of the Liberal Party. It is unclear what effect this will have on the organizational changes. Campbell has maintained it will not be affected by his decision to resign. Given the magnitude and implications of the change, however, unless there is widespread agreement within the cabinet, it would seem advisable to suspend the changes until a new premier is in place.