Evidence of meeting #4 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

8:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

That's correct.

I'd like to go to Ms. Schwann for a moment and go back to some of the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act.

Within the proposed changes, there is a “duty to notify” section. Are you familiar with it?

8:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Saskatchewan Mining Association

Pamela Schwann

I am generally, yes.

8:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

It legally requires proponents to inform DFO in the event of serious harm to fisheries—a logical, reasonable step that should always have been taken, if such unfortunate circumstances were to occur.

Do you see this as a positive development?

8:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Saskatchewan Mining Association

Pamela Schwann

I think it's a very common-sense approach to responsible resource development, which this is all about.

8:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

We talked a little bit with your national mining association about how, sometimes, projects have windows to market that need to be assessed. The timeliness and predictability of timelines could help to promote that, but also ensure that there is rigour in the environmental review at the same time.

Do you foresee any of your member companies lessening their environmental planning or lessening their environmental standards because of the changes in this regulation?

8:25 p.m.

Executive Director, Saskatchewan Mining Association

Pamela Schwann

No, that's impossible. The environmental assessment process is a planning document. There are a lot of other licensing and permitting activities that are ongoing after an environmental assessment is done. There is no lessening of standards, because you would be non-compliant with your licence and would have your licence revoked. So I don't see that.

I also don't subscribe to the theory that you can't have development and responsible environmental stewardship. They aren't mutually exclusive.

8:25 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

Thank you.

I'll hand the rest of my time to Mr. Trost.

May 30th, 2012 / 8:25 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I was very interested, Ms. Schwann, listening to your remark about the story you were telling about the mining company that had been approved by the provincial government, because of the tailings pond issue.

You referred to that as an economic example. I remember this case very well, because I was one of the first MPs to deal with it. It was actually an environmental problem, wherein the provincial environment department wanted the mining company to go in there and work on the tailings pond, but DFO didn't want them to go in, because it was fish habitat. So DFO's declaring of an old tailings pond as fish habitat was allowing leaking of contaminants into the environment, and DFO was in fact holding back environmental progress.

I listened to Mr. Siddon's remarks that a minister should really be on top of his file. I know that the minister at that time was on top of his file, and he was handicapped in that situation by the legislation. He agreed that it would be better to go in and clean it up environmentally. The irony is that DFO was holding back environmental protection in this area and the minister understood that, and yet the provincial environmental body wanted to clean this up.

Is my recollection correct on that? Effectively, the provincial environmental body was pushing for a cleanup, which would have resulted, had this mining company been allowed to proceed with its project.

8:25 p.m.

Executive Director, Saskatchewan Mining Association

Pamela Schwann

I can't recall the exact details. I don't know whether I would classify it as a cleanup, but certainly it was a tailings facility licensed by the provincial government. If there had been a breach, they would have wanted to remedy it, but because it was fish habitat, they actually—

8:25 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

They would have been on the hook the moment they were allowed to start; whereas, until they were allowed to do their project, this old tailings pond could just leak into the environment left, right, and centre, as DFO was content to have it do.

8:25 p.m.

Executive Director, Saskatchewan Mining Association

Pamela Schwann

I don't know that I would agree it was leaking into the environment, but....

8:25 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

I was very involved in that file, so....

Here's one last thing. You mentioned a little disappointment on the uranium file, and I share that. Are there any other practical suggestions you may have that could enhance the regulatory process—without, of course, weakening environmental protections—that we have not yet included in this legislation? Where are there areas in which this could be improved so that there could be more efficiencies, so that more resources could be devoted to serious environmental questions?

8:25 p.m.

Executive Director, Saskatchewan Mining Association

Pamela Schwann

There are probably two areas: making sure that time is spent on the designated projects list—

8:25 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

On the...?

8:25 p.m.

Executive Director, Saskatchewan Mining Association

Pamela Schwann

The designated projects list, so that you're looking at the highest risk projects and are able to dedicate the resources that are required by them, rather than at some small projects.

We've had examples of projects that were actually of environmental benefit to an operation, but they still had to go through an environmental assessment process, at great cost.

The other thing would be to make sure that any substitution or equivalency process is manageable; that it's not more bureaucratic than the existing system. This means making sure that if there are equivalency provisions and substitution provisions, they are actually of benefit and are doable—making sure that the details in the regulations don't make things too burdensome.