On May 31, 2012, I travelled to Ottawa, on behalf of West Coast Environmental Law Association, to speak in person about the budget bill’s attack on nature and democracy to the House of Commons Finance Subcommittee on Part 3 of Budget Bill C-38. What is Part 3 of Bill C-38, you may ask? Part 3 of the 452 page budget bill, a full one third (153 pages) of the bill, is titled “Responsible Resource Development.” This Part is where the proposed cuts and rollbacks to the Fisheries Act, Species at Risk Act, National Energy Board Act, Canadian Environmental Protection Act we have been telling you about and advocating against are. It also entirely replaces the existing environmental assessment law with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012, an emaciated and entirely new approach to environmental assessment in Canada.
This Finance Subcommittee was struck to ‘study’ Part 3 because there was some acknowledgement by the federal government to Canadian’s concern that the rollbacks to Canada’s foundational environmental laws were so significant that they should be studied by a Parliamentary committee other than the Finance Committee. The Finance Committee is charged with examining the remainder of the massive and controversial omnibus bill (which also includes changes to old age security, employment insurance conditions, immigration laws, the jurisdiction of the auditor general, oversight of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and much more).
I understand the four pillars of the government's responsible resource development plan are to create more predictable and timely reviews, less duplication in reviewing projects, strong environmental protection, and enhanced consultation with aboriginal peoples. We would also support those as part of a robust regulatory regime for environmental assessment and environmental regulation writ large. However, we do not think that Part 3 of Bill C-38 accomplishes any of those, and we think that in some cases it actually hinders them.
We think that Part 3 will actually result in weakened protection for fish and species at risk. An entirely new and actually less comprehensive environmental assessment process will see the federal government retreat from a strong role and smart regulations…. We think there are broad and seemingly unchecked decision-making powers given to cabinet and to ministers, which will result in less accountability and fewer opportunities for public participation and public oversight.
Our main recommendation to the Subcommittee was that Part 3 be removed in its entirely from Bill C-38 so that further scientific, factual, and legal study could be done of the proposed changes and fulsome and open consultation could take place with Canadians. But, of course, we also made several specific recommendations about changes to clauses in the bill that we think are priorities, in case the Subcommittee did not accept the recommendation to remove Part 3 entirely.
To its credit, the Subcommittee ran fair hearings and was chaired skillfully – and we were cautiously optimistic that a meaningful report might come out of the Subcommittee.
Disappointingly, when it did report to the Finance Committee on Part 3, the Report recommended that the “clauses contained in Part 3 of Bill C-38 be carried as written” and it did not reference the variety of viewpoints the Subcommittee heard and it was couched more in rhetoric than in fact, science or law.
As I submitted to the Subcommittee:
I worry that there's actually a lot of facts, science, and law missing right now that would hinder one's ability to write such a fact-based report. I talked about missing regulations and missing schedules. We haven't heard a lot about how this is actually going to be implemented, and I think that if and when it is implemented, it's going to lead to a lot of uncertainty. People have talked about that as well in terms of what this means on the ground to proponents. What does it mean to the public? What does it mean to first nations? Timelines are uncertain, the process is uncertain, public servants are probably uncertain, so I think things need to be thought out … more thoroughly.
Both Liberal and New Democrat members of the Subcommittee submitted dissenting reports (beginning at page 41), many of the recommendations in which mirror the ones made by West Coast.
We alsomade submissions to the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, who are charged with studying Part 3 on behalf of the Senate. The Senate is likely to consider and vote on the Budget Bill in the coming week or two, no later than June 29th, 2012.
What can you do?
The recent success of the Black Out Speak Out campaign demonstrated that Canadians care passionately about the environment and the laws that protect it. If you have not already done so, please:
- Speak to your Member of Parliament or the Senators representing your province about how you feel about the Omnibus Budget Bill; and
· Sign the “Defend Canada’s Democracy and Environment from Bill-C-38” petition, and get your friends to as well. If each of the current signatories were to get just 10 others to sign, we’d have over half a million other Canadians standing up for nature and democracy.
By Rachel Forbes, Staff Lawyer