Evidence of meeting #11 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was nations.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Roger Jones  Senior Strategist, Assembly of First Nations
  • David Collyer  President, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
  • Chantal Otter Tétreault  Member, Cree Regional Authority, James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment
  • Pierre Gratton  President and Chief Executive Officer, Mining Association of Canada
  • William David  Senior Policy Analyst, Environmental Stewardship, Assembly of First Nations
  • Graeme Morin  Environmental Analyst, James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment
  • Justyna Laurie-Lean  Vice-President, Environment and Health, Mining Association of Canada

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Lise St-Denis Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

I wish to thank all of the witnesses.

Given that we presently find ourselves on the traditional territory of the Algonquin, I will begin with the two First Nations representatives.

As representatives of the First Nations of Canada, could you explain to us how the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act can integrate the diverse cultural specificities and aboriginal rights of each of these nations?

11:45 a.m.

William David Senior Policy Analyst, Environmental Stewardship, Assembly of First Nations

I'll take this on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations.

The act itself, as a whole, can't do that without a specific provision. Our position is that it has to be done on a case-by-case basis and that first nations have to become engaged early in the process. The process itself has to respect, specifically, aboriginal treaty rights of those first nations. As well, it has to be sufficiently holistic to take into account, for instance, socio-economic impacts as well as benefits, cultural impacts, and human rights impacts.

As far as I know, the act does not do an adequate job, in our mind, of even taking into account the rights considerations, never mind some of these other ones. It's something the Assembly of First Nations has identified as a major issue with the act—which does not have an easy solution but requires dialogue between first nations and the crown, or between first nations and the government, more precisely, in order to address comprehensively how to deal with consultation.

11:45 a.m.

Member, Cree Regional Authority, James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment

Chantal Otter Tétreault

Concerning the Cree of the James Bay area, within our agreement, within section 22, it is based on both social and environmental aspects. In that, social does include our cultural values. Within our environmental assessment, we do take into consideration cultural values.

This is not portrayed within the CEA, so for certain examples in the past, such as the Eastmain-1-A and Rupert project, many of the questions the proponent, Hydro-Québec, needed to answer were based more on social questions rather than environmental ones. So it's somewhat of a balance, within our environmental review, that the social aspect—which does mean cultural—is respected.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Lise St-Denis Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Thank you.

Much has been said, even yet again today, about jurisdictional issues relating to environmental assessments. We have thus discussed provincial jurisdiction, federal jurisdiction and, with regard to section 22, aboriginal jurisdiction.

Could you briefly explain the position taken by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 2010 Moses decision regarding timelines? It somewhat explains why the delays are sometimes so long. Regarding the Moses decision, I would also like us to discuss the compatibility between the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the consultation process provided for under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

November 17th, 2011 / 11:45 a.m.

Graeme Morin Environmental Analyst, James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment

Quickly, first I just want to state—and I don't think anybody here would disagree—that we need to respect the decisions of the Supreme Court, so we're not going to put into question what was in the Moses affair.

Conversely, at least, the committee itself is of the opinion that it is a good decision to respect and to consult first nations from the beginning, which is more or less what was in the decision. Of note, though, is that it is one of the principal considerations in the agreement. The Crees enjoy a special status of consultation and participation over and above what is generally afforded to the general public, and that applies to section 22 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

What we see is perhaps the Supreme Court properly reacting to concerns, obviously subsequent to the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, which was done in 1975.

The issue, though, is that when we get to the operational stage within the EA process, there is a disconnect between what happens during that process and what was supported or decided upon by the Supreme Court. So what we're asking—at least what Chantal forwarded—is to fill that gap. Section 22 goes well beyond what is in the CEAA, and it, of course, is in concordance with what the Supreme Court mentioned or decided, so perhaps it behooves this commission to consider specifically recognizing the convention, perhaps in the preamble or text of the act, when environmental assessments occur in the territory, so that by default we can then fill that gap.

In essence, right now section 22 goes well beyond what is in the act, and of course a Supreme Court decision is in line with that. There is still some road that has to be traversed before that.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Lise St-Denis Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

My next question concerns my riding. During the course of a visit to Wemotaci, Mr. Boivin, the chief of the Conseil Atikamekw, shared with us his concerns regarding the difficulties those nations that are far removed from large urban centres are having with regard to the adoption of certain environmental practices, such as recycling, for example.

Do you think the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act sufficiently takes into account…

Have I finished my time?

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Mark Warawa

I'm sorry, your time has expired. Thank you so much, Madame St-Denis.

Next, Mr. Sopuck, for seven minutes.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The question is for Mr. Collyer or Mr. Gratton. Would you agree that federal resources should be focused on larger projects that pose a higher risk to the environment rather than on smaller projects, and do you think that an approach that uses a project list to determine which projects would require a federal EA would be effective in focusing resources on significant projects?

11:50 a.m.

President, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

David Collyer

I can start with a response to that.

Absolutely, we agree that the focus should be on those projects that are higher risk, and a risk-based approach should absolutely be used to allocate resources, which are scarce everywhere.

Our view is that we need to continue to focus on federal triggers. That is the appropriate mechanism by which to trigger any aid at the federal level, and I'll just reiterate the comment I made during my remarks that one should not assume, because there is not a federal assessment, that these projects are not being assessed, and there are many that are not assessed at the federal level. In situ projects, which are subject to a rigorous provincial review, would be an example of that.

11:50 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Mining Association of Canada

Pierre Gratton

I would agree with everything my colleague has just said. I would also clarify one other point that was raised before this committee before, as an example. There was the notion of having greenhouse gases become some kind of trigger in Australia, and I would just like to clarify to the committee that there is no such mechanism in Australia.

For the act to really be effective and to work as it should within federal jurisdiction, it has to focus on those things for which there are real federal triggers.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

I have a tendency to focus on the environment itself as opposed to process—things like water quality, biodiversity, air quality, and so on. Given that many of those are governed by various acts and regulations both federally and provincially—the Species at Risk Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act, the Fisheries Act, and so on—when mines are being developed or energy developments are being planned, I would assume that you build in the compliance with all those acts and regulations from the very beginning. Is that correct?

11:50 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Mining Association of Canada

Pierre Gratton

Yes. One of our concerns, which I voiced today, is that with some of the acts you just mentioned there aren't presently compliance mechanisms. That is a major concern of ours.

The Migratory Birds Convention Act, for example, is an absolute prohibition and there is no way to be able to comply with the act. You have to do your due diligence and hope it works and that you stay out of court. The Environment Canada website's current advice to its clients is to consult their lawyer. We actually don't think that's the answer. We think we need a regulatory mechanism that would allow us to obtain a permit to demonstrate compliance with the act.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

I really appreciate your reference to the Migratory Birds Convention Act, because carried to a logical extreme it would mean the end of Prairies agriculture, so I think your caution is very well taken.

Mr. Collyer.

11:55 a.m.

President, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

David Collyer

I would just reiterate the same point. Compliance is the minimum requirement. I agree with Pierre that there's an opportunity to improve the clarity on compliance requirements, but in looking at any new energy project, compliance is the minimum threshold. We often try, for economic or other reasons, to perform better than that, but absolutely that is the going-in position.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Right.

What do you think about a guidelines approach to a number of projects? For example, we know how to build stream crossings in a way that allows fish to go underneath roads and so on. What if the relevant regulatory authorities were to issue you guidelines and you simply followed them in many cases? Would that be helpful?