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Review of the Environmental Impact of the Omnibus Bill is Farcical

Posted on June 1, 2012

From Kirsty Duncan, MP for Etobicoke North:

The affront to democracy continues on the over 400-page omnibus budget implementation bill, which devotes an astonishing 150 pages to destroying 50 years of environmental oversight.

This past Tuesday, opposition parties had the opportunity to ask the Minister of the Environment questions about the budget bill and his department during Committee of the Whole in the House of Commons. Unfortunately, the Minister and government stuck to previous talking points about so-called enhanced environmental protection and responsible resource development — when clearly, the opposite is the case, namely reduced environmental protection and irresponsible resource development.

Moreover, the Minister often refused to answer questions, and sometimes told parliamentarians that he did not have answers, despite the fact that his officials sat right in front of him with the information.

This past Thursday, the newly formed sub-committee of finance met to begin its review of the environmental sections of Bill C-38. After election of the Chair, customary practice would dictate that each party would submit the names of witnesses, who then would be invited to testify on the authority of the sub-committee.

But this did not happen; instead, Environment Minister Peter Kent, Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield, and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver appeared. Who invited the Ministers and when? It was farcical, presumptuous and undemocratic to have three Ministers appear together for a mere one hour to answer questions on 150 pages of some of the most significant changes to environmental legislation in 30 to 40 years.

Bill C-38 fails to learn from the past, and Canadians should not be deceived by the government’s patronizing claims, words and speeches that it has everything under control, and that all will be okay. According to Minister Kent, “the responsible resource development legislation has four very simple, very clear and environmentally logical provisions and principles. They are: to strengthen environmental protection first and foremost … to make reviews of resource projects more predictable and timely; to reduce duplication and regulatory burden; and to enhance consultations with aboriginal Canadians.”

Let’s examine how Bill C-38 in fact stands up to the claim to “strengthen environmental protection”.

Repealing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) means that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency would be able to exempt a designated project from even going through the assessment process. And when environmental assessments do happen, they will be narrower, less rigorous, and have reduced public participation.

Important questions need to be asked: for example, what are the projected costs of the repeal of CEAA for each province and territory? What assessments of the adequacy of the environmental assessment process in each province and territory have been conducted? How will the proposed legislative changes affect the assessment of environmental impacts of industrial projects that cross provincial borders? What proportion of current assessments will no longer receive federal oversight?

Repealing the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act will result in a loss of domestic climate- accountability measures.

Repealing the National Round Table on Environment and Economy Act will result in the loss of a unique, independent, unbiased organization, whose only fault was publishing evidenced-based reports that did not agree with conservative ideology.

Weakening of fisheries and species-at-risk laws means that the law may no longer protect all fish and the waters where they live; and permitting of an activity could continue even despite a possible sharp decline in the population affected by the activity. Moreover, the National Energy Board (NEB) will no longer have to ensure that measures be taken to minimise impacts on critical habitat of at-risk species before the NEB approves major infrastructure.

Cabinet will have the opportunity to over-ride decisions of the NEB; thus, if a pipeline is not approved, Cabinet could actually approve it. Cabinet will also be allowed to make decisions regarding environmental assessments and fish-habitat protection. Canadians must absolutely fight independent, evidence-based processes being forfeited to individual Ministers and Cabinet.

It is our air, biodiversity, water — in total, our environment — which is at risk now, and in the future.

We must learn from the past — namely that prevention is the best line of defence, and worst-case scenarios do happen. We have to think back only to May, 2000, when 2,300 people fell ill after E.coli bacteria contaminated the water supply of Walkerton, Ontario. Sweeping Conservative cut-backs to the Ontario Ministry of Environment contributed to the tragedy, the most serious case of water contamination in Canadian history.

We simply cannot afford economic development with reduced environmental consideration, as we risk environmental disaster and clean-up costs which we may pass on to our children. We must remember that, “we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”.

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