The professional reliance model was used to determine a permit for the controversial contaminated soil site in Shawnigan Lake. (File photo)

Editorial: Professional reliance model review vital to future

There’s no getting around the clear conflict of interest.

It sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry.

But it’s vital that people pay attention and start talking about it, preferably to the provincial government.

The new NDP government has announced a review of the province’s professional reliance model for deciding whether resource projects can go ahead or not.

What you need to consider is that this was the much-maligned model used to give the go-ahead for the Shawnigan Lake contaminated soil site.

Under the professional reliance model it is not independent, government employees that give environmental assessments for projects, it is paid industry professionals, often the same ones that have done work for the project proponents.

There’s no getting around the clear conflict of interest (even if there isn’t one in the legal sense). It’s not that the professionals giving the assessments are bad, corrupt people. They are not. We don’t believe there’s intentional twisting of, or misrepresentation of data. But there cannot help but be an unconscious bias favouring the project. That’s just human nature.

The reason for the use of the professional reliance model is obvious: money. It’s a way to not have as many government employees whose job it would be to impartially assess projects as they come up. But are we being penny wise and pound foolish here, to use a British idiom?

Of course government employees can still have their biases, but at least it wouldn’t be built into the system.

We would avoid the whole murky question of who’s paying and for what that can hang like a cloud over the eventual decision, leaving people uneasy and even angry.

At any rate, now is the chance to have your say on the subject. The province is listening: http://engage.gov.bc.ca/govtogetherbc/consultation/professional-reliance-review/

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