Evidence of meeting #2 for Subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Finance on Bill C-38 in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was environmental.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Jayson Myers  President and CEO, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters - Ontario Division
  • Christopher Smillie  Senior Advisor, Government Relations and Public Affairs, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, Canadian Office
  • David Collyer  President, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
  • Denise Carpenter  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Nuclear Association
  • Terry Rees  Executive Director, Federation of Ontario Cottagers' Associations
  • Peter Meisenheimer  Executive Director, Ontario Commercial Fisheries' Association
  • Ward Prystay  Principal, Environmental Services, Stantec Consulting Ltd., Canadian Construction Association
  • Pierre Gratton  President and Chief Executive Officer, Mining Association of Canada
  • Ray Orb  Vice-President, Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities

11:10 p.m.

Principal, Environmental Services, Stantec Consulting Ltd., Canadian Construction Association

Ward Prystay

It brings clarification to that, and my understanding is that the delay between the two is to allow DFO to get an appropriate update of its policy for the management of fish habitat.

May 28th, 2012 / 11:10 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

I appreciate your explanation. It's the first time I have been able to hear an explanation, because normally—this is a fact for Mr. Storseth, my friend, who likes facts—budget bills are 30 pages, and this is about 430. It's these kinds of details that are so hard to figure out.

A news article is coming out tomorrow, where we have a rare show of solidarity across party lines, with four former fisheries ministers coming forward to say this bill is “watering down and emasculating the Fisheries Act”. Tom Siddon, former fisheries minister, says that “in devious little ways if you read all the fine print…they're making Swiss cheese out of [it]”.

That's my big problem with this. It's so big that we don't actually know what's happening.

Former minister John Fraser says that changes of this importance should be fully debated and not all lumped together in an omnibus bill, and that's exactly what we're trying to say here.

In that article, former minister Siddon also says, and this is a quote:

I know from many experiences, whether it's the issues of the gravel pit operators…placer miners…or pulp mills, that what they could get away with, they got away with, prior to 1985–86.

With that quote in mind, one thing I am worried about is that this bill creates an incentive to drain a lake, destroy fish habitat, and leave a hole where there wouldn't be fish. A hole that is a perfect place to put tailings in, rather than apply for a permit to add deleterious substances to lake water where there's fish. I think there is actually an incentive to drain lakes being created here.

Mr. Gratton, can you see this happening in your industry? Can you assuage my fears?

11:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Mining Association of Canada

Pierre Gratton

The way Environment Canada is enforcing section 36 of the Fisheries Act today, no, that could not take place because it is their view that you cannot use section 35 to get around section 36. So in the case of the mining industry, no, there would not be a way around that because there isn't a way. If you had asked me this question 20 years ago, I might have been able to give you a different answer, but today, no.

11:15 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

That's as it stands right now. Are you worried about—can you assuage my fears about the changes coming?

11:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Mining Association of Canada

Pierre Gratton

What we've seen is a steady increase in the application of section 36, at least to our sector. We might suggest that other sectors may not be regulated with quite the same degree of rigour as ours is, but in our case we could not drain it and then fill it in again. It would not be allowed. It would not be permitted through the environmental assessment. It wouldn't happen.

11:15 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

I'm very glad to hear that. I hope you're correct.

11:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Thank you, Ms. Leslie.

11:15 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

I assume I'm getting cut off.

Thank you.

11:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

That's your five minutes. Thank you.

Ms. Duncan, go ahead.

11:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

We've heard that you're pleased with these changes. I'm going to give you what we've heard, from legal experts who work in this field to scientists. They feel that under the guise of streamlining to speed up review for industrial projects, the federal government says let provinces review major projects where possible. This will land projects, some harmful, in a patchwork of provincial environmental laws, many that are weaker than federal laws.

I'll give the example, since you said it happened once. A gold mine was approved and then the federal review rejected it. Let small projects go ahead without a review and you may be reducing regulatory oversight from 40 agencies down to 3. This will remove experts, and of those that remain, many have their budgets cut. People are concerned that there is a loss of responsibility for managing the environment.

To pick up on Ms. Leslie's comments, a few months ago we had 625 scientists sign a letter warning against changes to the Fisheries Act. We've had former Tory ministers speak out and the B.C. Conservative Party leader has also spoken out. A fish must have aboriginal, commercial, or recreational value before it is protected from serious harm. These terms are vague, and they're loaded.

What does “serious harm” mean?

11:15 p.m.

Principal, Environmental Services, Stantec Consulting Ltd., Canadian Construction Association

Ward Prystay

Serious harm is defined in the legislation. It's essentially “the death of fish or any permanent alteration to, or destruction of, fish habitat”. Fish habitat is also defined in the legislation as the “spawning grounds…nursery, rearing, food supply and migration areas, on which fish depend directly or indirectly”. It's very broad, and that's very consistent with the current definition of fish habitat as well.

11:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Well, there are those who are very concerned that the language is vague. You may increase the penalties in the bill, but the language remains vague and is full of loopholes. It may be doubtful that anyone would ever be prosecuted. That's a real concern of the legal experts.

Mr. Orb, the new law allows for significant power to be invested in the Minister of Fisheries. It allows the minister to make regulations. In some cases, they do not even have to be published. Do you think that's fair to your members?

11:20 p.m.

Vice-President, Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities

Ray Orb

I actually wasn't aware of that in the proposed legislation. I think it would be an ongoing concern if we weren't aware of what the regulations were going to be, and I think that would be cause for us to have a meeting with the minister to discuss that. I think it goes to municipal governments being responsible. I certainly think our members are responsible and would continue to be so as far as the environment is concerned.

11:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Thank you, Mr. Orb.

Mr. Gratton, given the increased scrutiny of environmental impacts, how do you anticipate that the changes to the environmental laws in Bill C-38 will improve your industry's social licence to operate?

11:20 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Mining Association of Canada

Pierre Gratton

As I believe I've said, I think a clearer process and a more predictable one will provide everyone with greater certainty—including the public—and clear opportunities to participate. A well-run process under the new legislation should very much contribute to our industry's efforts to achieve its social licence.

But you know what? Our social licence is not achieved through legislation. It's achieved far beyond entering into an environmental assessment. It starts way earlier and it continues long after.