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

7:55 p.m.

Executive Director, Nature Québec

Christian Simard

Yes, I have a very simple example. Corridor Resources Inc. carried out a study on its project, Old Harry, located in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Environment Canada told that company that its assessment was invalid because it seemed to indicate that the oil could not spread beyond a 20-km area—that it would evaporate, as if by magic. Environment Canada told them to redo their homework. However, if it had been the National Energy Board and not Environment Canada, the board people would have considered there to be no impacts on fishermen and commercial fishing, seeing as how it was a matter of only 20 km. They would have eaten it all up.

Without crosschecks and without an independent environmental assessment of energy projects, there could be an incident on the St. Lawrence. This reform would have been carried out without any intelligent work behind it. That is the case in terms of fisheries, and the same would apply to wetlands, Ms. Quach. The Fisheries Act was a barrier that protected those essential regions. However, that barrier has unfortunately collapsed.

8 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Thank you very much. We've gone well past the five-minute mark.

Thank you, Madam Quach.

Ms. Rempel, you have the floor.

8 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My question is for Mr. Tremblay.

You spoke a bit about the aboriginal consultation process. I just wanted to give you a little bit more of an opportunity to speak to that.

One of the things that Bill C-38 does is better integrate aboriginal consultation by designating a lead department or agency as the federal coordinator on specific projects. How do you foresee that this change to having one point of contact during the consultation process will help aboriginal communities?

8 p.m.

Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Treaties and Aboriginal Government, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Jean-François Tremblay

You have to understand that there are probably more than 600 first nation communities across the country, and add to that aboriginal communities and Métis communities. The duty to consult can apply and can be triggered with each of them. It can happen more than 1,000 times per year. When there are many departments involved, who do you call? Some of those communities are less than 100 people.

Sometimes in the federal government—and it was mentioned earlier—Fisheries will be in charge. They will call Aboriginal Affairs, they will, of course. call Transport, and in some cases, they will call Environment and so on. Having one person designated for a major project, having one department with the lead, means that they know who to call.

Making sure that there's a single window is something that we heard in the past from first nations, and that's what we also heard from other groups. It's particularly important if you have different first nations communities and aboriginal communities involved because each of them can call a different person. So, at the end of the day—

8 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

It sounds like you've heard a lot from stakeholders that this is a problem. Having to call into various departments could contribute to almost a consultation fatigue. Have you actually seen examples of this? Perhaps you could talk to the committee about how the proposed changes to the process would help alleviate that fatigue.

8 p.m.

Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Treaties and Aboriginal Government, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Jean-François Tremblay

Yes, we heard from aboriginal groups. We also heard from courts in the past who told us that we had to better coordinate within the federal family.

I don't necessarily have one specific example in mind, but you can go with the mining industry, you can go with whatever project that would be considered, even a pipeline, for example. In those cases, you will, of course, have different jurisdictions that would be involved. You can have many first nations or aboriginal groups who would be involved, and you have different departments that would be involved. Having one person, one single window, if you will, who will be in change of the consultation and the discussion is very helpful.

8 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

Our government, through these changes to process, is also committed to providing funding to support consultations while establishing protocols or agreements with aboriginal groups to clarify consultation expectations for a given project. Do you think that this will improve the consultation process, and if so, how?

8 p.m.

Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Treaties and Aboriginal Government, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Jean-François Tremblay

In this bill, in this legislation, there will, of course, be funding for the environmental assessment. If you want consultation to be meaningful, you have to make sure that the participants have the capacity to participate in the negotiation, and that's what the proposal actually offers.

So, yes, we think that it's important. That's what we heard in the past from aboriginal groups and others, that when there's a consultation process, there is capacity to participate in what people would call a meaningful consultation.

8 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

Thank you.

I'd now like to continue the line of questioning, perhaps with the hydro association, on the need to coordinate consultation.

You appeared before the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development during the statutory review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. We talked a little bit about the changes that were made to CEAA in 2010 with regard to consolidation—a single point of contact within the government or a lead agency for a consultation process. The Commissioner of the Environment said, in 2009 I believe, that this was an issue.

Based on some of your projects do you feel that this was rectified through the changes made in 2010?

8:05 p.m.

Chair, Board of Directors, Canadian Hydropower Association

Eduard Wojczynski

Movement to having a consolidation of aboriginal consultation in one place or one person makes a lot of sense. We do our projects, as is quite typical now across the country, in some form of partnership with the local aboriginal communities and we work quite closely with them. We hear continual complaints about consultation overload, confusion, or they deal with people who really don't know how to do consultation properly. Bringing it together and coordinating it better will make a huge difference from the aboriginal point of view but also from a project and environmental protection point of view.

Our last comment, which I think is an important one that I didn't quite hear and maybe it was there, is that for a lot of the communities having some sort of relationship and a certain degree of trust with the person or entity who is doing the consultation is very important, more so perhaps than for some other communities. When you consolidate, it helps.

8:05 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

Do you feel that the changes to regulations will allow that?

8:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Thank you for that clarification.

8:05 p.m.

Chair, Board of Directors, Canadian Hydropower Association

Eduard Wojczynski

Yes, they will help that

8:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Ms. Rempel, your time has expired.

We now move on to Mr. Toone for up to five minutes, please.

May 30th, 2012 / 8:05 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

If I may, I will continue along the lines of Mr. Simard's comments regarding the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.

In our region—that of the gulf—I agree that we are far from the exhaustion that follows consultation. The board created a review commission, the Richard commission, which was very confused because of the Swiss cheese—if I may go back to this idea of Swiss cheese—in terms of the regulations in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In fact, it practically abandoned its consultations. There are currently no consultations on the hydrocarbon drilling development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The federal government's virtual abandonment in that area is clearly worrying coastal communities.

I am wondering how it can even be suggested that hydrocarbons be developed in the gulf when half of the provinces share one gulf. Those provinces are currently unable to create the administrative or legislative consistency needed for oil companies to be able to even suggest developing the gulf. The step backwards proposed by the bill currently before us will create a situation where governance in the region will be almost impossible. It will even slow down our region's economic development. That is one of the negative effects of that bill. It is not a matter of protecting habitat or regressing in terms of environmental law. The bill is also impedes economic development, and that is unacceptable.

So I would like to address Mr. Siddon.

If I could continue, when it comes to the peculiar consequences of the changes in front of us, again, it's not just the protection of fish habitat, which is in and of itself an environmental and fisheries issue, but other issues are going to come up. One is if we don't protect the fish habitat properly we're going to be putting in peril other aspects of environmental protection. I'm thinking, for instance, waterways will become much more contaminated if we don't properly protect the filtering capacity of fish habitat.

Fish habitat has more of a role than just protecting fish. It has a role of protecting the entire environment and our drinking water. I might add that the Alberta Fish & Game Association has actually come out and said this as well, that in the heartland of the government's own fortress—Alberta—even there people are thinking that this particular bill in front of us might very well have a very deleterious effect on our environment and on our drinking water.

What do you think is the proper approach right now? Is it to redefine “serious harm”? Is serious harm, the way that the new bill has proposed it, going to be sufficient to protect our environment? Where should we be going from here? What kind of modifications to the bill should we be proposing at this point?