OTTAWA— After months of consultation and public hearings with industry, environmental, and Indigenous groups, the government’s rejection of about half of the nearly 200 amendments to Bill C-69 put forth by the Senate had representatives of the Save Canadian Jobs (SJC) coalition expressing grave concerns at a press conference in Ottawa on June 17.
The coalition does not want the Senate to pass the bill, despite feeling that further legislation is needed to improve upon the shortcomings of the current process for major project approvals. Bill-C69 proposes repealing the 2012 Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and having a newly created Impact Assessment Agency take over the role of the National Energy Board. It would consider input from a wider range of parties on a broader range of issues.
The coalition says that while proper environmental stewardship is a must, balancing its economic impact will not be achieved under the bill’s current convoluted processes.
SCJ says that without the Senate’s significant amendments, the bill is in effect ignoring industry’s warnings of investment leaving the country, jobs being lost, and not addressing key issues such as the uncertainty of timelines for project approvals and the potential for increased litigation.
“We were all somewhat surprised when a bunch of the changes were hived off—the ones that are really important to industry,” said Dennis Darby, president and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME).
Manufacturers are at risk of collateral damage from Bill C-69. If big infrastructure projects aren’t green-lighted, a lot of manufacturing work won’t be filtering down. Manufacturing directly accounts for 11 percent of GDP and two-thirds of Canada’s exports, according to CME.
Darby says the potential length of time to get project approvals under the new system would render any project uncompetitive.
The coalition made it clear that it would not be placated with the reinstatement of just one or two key amendments. “I think, combined, it’s the whole issue of global competitiveness, timeliness, clarity,” said Charlene Johnson, CEO of Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association.
The amendments that were submitted were not a wish list, said Aaron Henry, director of natural resources and environment policy with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
The package of amendments was “the bare minimum from our stakeholders so that this bill would work,” he said.
The mining sector supports C-69 after its latest draft. But the Chamber of Commerce is very concerned about how other sectors will fare.
Chief John Helin, who represents the Lax Kw’alaams Band near Prince Rupert on the northwest coast of B.C., is looking to diversify the economic prospects of his band since the salmon industry has been devastated.
He joined SCJ to express his concern with Bill C-69. “It seems the government is intent on taking away our best opportunities to lift ourselves out of poverty,” he said.
The catchwords of “reconciliation,” “consultation,” and “self-determination” ring hollow to him since he feels the government is not backing them up with action.
“Canada’s Senate actually took the time to hear from different stakeholders and Indigenous groups on C-69. … They came up with a good and reasonable slate of amendments in a non-partisan way,” Helin said.
Safeguarding the Environment
Johnson said added process and lengthier assessments do not equate to greater environmental protection, noting that to undertake a review of an exploration well in Norway takes 79 days, in Australia it takes 144 days, but in Newfoundland and Labrador it takes 905 days.
The lengthy decision-making time is an example of a broken process, but the bill’s scope to centralize the approvals is panned by SCJ. “Bill C-69 discounts the local knowledge of the regulator gained from decades of experience … and rather it focuses on centralized decision-making in Ottawa,” she said.
In addition, independent researcher Vivian Krause reported that getting Canada’s oil to international markets has been partially scuppered by smear campaigns funded by certain American foundations and California billionaires.
“Local voices can be drowned out by professional activists from abroad,” Darby said. The struggle to keep timelines tight for project approvals given the broad scope of assessment and input from a number of parties brings tremendous uncertainty to business.
Johnson adds that the term “economic benefits” is not recognized when assessing environmental impact.
Nevertheless, nearly 100 amendments were accepted. Darby said that the latest draft should depoliticize the approval process and tighten the rules around public participation, but what was accepted is still not enough.
He hopes the Senate will refuse to pass the legislation without further changes.
Henry echoed Darby’s sentiments. “We are asking the Senate to stand by its package of amendments,” he said.
The potential for legal challenges to C-69 remains. Helin said that process has already started for Bill C-48 regarding oil tanker bans.
“It’s a long game, the industry is not going anywhere,” Darby said. “Going forward as is will not be good for the economy.”
On June 18, while addressing the government’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline extension, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said his party would repeal Bill C-69 if elected.
The fundamental Canadian nature of building mega projects and tapping the country’s resources is threatened by Bill C-69. “This is so important. Historically, we were good at it. In recent memory, we’re not so good at it,” Darby said.
“We want an improved version of this Bill C-69.”
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