Bill C-69, which is proving to be a highly controversial and polarizing piece of legislation, has been the subject of numerous public hearings as it makes its way through the Senate.
The bill proposes to repeal the 2012 Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) and have the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada take over the role of the National Energy Board (NEB).
Although the bill has the support of the environmental lobby and some Indigenous groups, some of those critical of it say it’s so problematic that no amount of amendments can make it work.
Numerous flaws in Bill C-69 have been pointed out by industry experts such as Chris Bloomer, president and CEO of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA).
“Bill C-69 does not address the pipeline sector’s most fundamental concern—that of the unacceptably high financial risk associated with lengthy, costly project reviews that have triggered polarized discussions in the process and what are viewed as political decisions at the end,” he said at a public hearing in Ottawa on April 4.
Bloomer noted that the United States is able to get project approvals in half the time it takes in Canada, thanks to the clarity of the American process.
“Since 2015, that’s led to 14 equivalent [Section 2] projects being proposed and approved in the U.S. versus one in Canada. That’s pretty stark data. Those are facts. That’s our major competitor,” he said.
CEPA proposed five amendments to the bill and wants to work collaboratively with other groups.
Senator Rosa Galvez, who heads the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources now examining the bill, said C-69 is one of the most important pieces of legislation in the last several years.
“I think this one touches all sectors, touches everybody, touches all provinces, touches all economic classes,” she said in an interview. Galvez was a civil engineering professor at Université Laval with a specialization in environmental impact and risk assessment.
Galvez said it’s the role of the committee to make Bill C-69 better. Impact assessment legislation is not new; the CEAA needed greater clarity for the industry and Indigenous people because of the volume of court cases, she added.
The committee has already held public hearings in Western Canada, and on April 23 began four days of hearings in the Maritime Provinces and Quebec.
‘Hatchet Job Done on the NEB’
Considerable opposition to the bill is based on fears of losing out on the legal and regulatory experience built up in the NEB if its role is taken over by the Impact Assessment Agency.
At the Ottawa hearing, Wim Veldman, president of his own consulting firm with extensive experience building pipelines, said the basic NEB process may have problems but is not broken.
“The overlying policies, statements, approaches, and processes are the ones that are broken. Bill C-69, in my opinion as a simple engineer, has fatal flaws that will not remedy the problems we have. Amendments, in my opinion, will not fix it.”
Members of the Senate committee have also voiced their displeasure with the bill. Senator Dave Richards of New Brunswick said he thought it was a “terrible piece of legislation.”
“The hatchet job done on the NEB is unjustified and unfair,” said Sen. Michael MacDonald, deputy chair of the committee.
Galvez, however, said she is confident both items relating to the NEB’s potential loss of jurisprudence and the environment minister’s discretion will be amended.
“We know there will be amendments to increase the clarity of the rules; there will be amendments to maybe protect better the environment. There will be amendments to increase the trust the population has in the consultation process and advancing our reconciliation [with Indigenous people],” she said.
“We don’t want parts of the bill to be decided in the courts once the bill is implemented,” she added. “We want to minimize litigation. I come back to the balance. That’s the key.”
Even Francyne Joe, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, who defended the bill at the Ottawa hearing, wanted some tweaks.
“Bill C-69 must ensure Indigenous women are consulted throughout all phases of an impact-assessment process,” she said.
But additional considerations such as this make it too big and open-ended, according to Joseph Quesnel, program manager for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Aboriginal Canada and the Natural Resource Economy project.
“The bill goes beyond traditional environmental impact toward more nebulous areas like health, gender, climate change,” he wrote in an op-ed.
Galvez said the majority of Indigenous groups are for the legislation, although a few support the industry amendments.
A big question is which projects will potentially be subject to Bill C-69.
“We don’t have a list of projects associated to C-69 but what we can say is, first, there is a list of criteria that help us decide which projects will go to the process,” Galvez said.
The second reading in the Senate is expected to conclude with the submission of the committee’s report on May 9. Galvez says the goal is to wrap up Bill C-69 before the federal election in the fall.
There is much work to be done before then, however, and Bill C-69 still faces a tumultuous future.
Alberta’s Premier-designate Jason Kenney said via Twitter that his government will launch a “constitutional challenge of C-69 if it becomes law.”
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