Evidence of meeting #5 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 process.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Tony Maas  Director, Freshwater Program, World Wildlife Fund (Canada)
  • Robert Steedman  Chief Environment Officer, National Energy Board
  • Warren Everson  Senior Vice-President, Policy, Canadian Chamber of Commerce
  • Rachel Forbes  Staff Counsel, West Coast Environmental Law Association
  • Geoff Smith  Director, Government Relations, Canadian Electricity Association
  • Terry Toner  Chair, Stewardship Task Group, Director, Environmental Services, Nova Scotia Power Inc, Canadian Electricity Association

7:40 p.m.

Chief Environment Officer, National Energy Board

Dr. Robert Steedman

The NEB would conduct a public hearing that integrates environment, economy, and social issues the way it always does. We call that the public interest assessment. It's fact based. It's fully transparent, like a court of record. It's based on an advanced, very clear statement of what the filing requirements are.

The NEB would collect its evidence. It would have an oral hearing, with participant funding. It would produce a recommendation report and give that to the Governor in Council for the Governor in Council to direct the NEB to issue a certificate, to dismiss the application, or to reconsider the report.

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Okay. Can you tell me a little bit about enforcement, then? I think there are some new provisions for enforcement. Can you go through those and talk a little bit about the changes and I would say improvements in that area?

7:45 p.m.

Chief Environment Officer, National Energy Board

Dr. Robert Steedman

The act has always provided for criminal sanctions: indictment or summary conviction with substantial fines. The NEB does not do that directly; it would do that through Justice.

The bill gives the NEB administrative monetary penalties. This is a new tool. These are designed to encourage compliance. In our compliance ladder, which ranges from requesting compliance and ends with asking them to shut down their facility or criminal prosecution, the administrative monetary penalties would provide a fairly rapid way of imposing a fine on someone who violated the act or a term or condition of an approval.

May 31st, 2012 / 7:45 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

I have a minute or so left.

Mr. Everson, we've heard time and again here from people—usually the people who've taken the time to look at the bill—that the EA system needed to be changed and is being changed in a good way. What we've heard is that the main change is not to outcomes, so there's no lessening of the rigour, demand, and the outcome. The changes that are taking place are in the process part of it.

I guess that's my question: isn't it the process that has really been the issue here?

7:45 p.m.

Senior Vice-President, Policy, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Warren Everson

I think that most of our members, if they were here, would say to you that if there's a difference between the regulatory authorities in provincial and federal governments, it would be that the regulators in the province are a little more aggressive. We do think there's just a lamentable amount of duplication; it seems a tragic waste of the environmental resources and the human capital we have that they're duplicating the process. So to that extent, for sure—this is a much desired bill in our membership and we've lobbied for it for a long time.

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Smith, you'd concur with that, would you?

Do you agree with that?

7:45 p.m.

Director, Government Relations, Canadian Electricity Association

Geoff Smith

I think it's the result of a lot of input over the years and challenges that we've been looking at.

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

So you're comfortable with your access. You feel you've had access in terms of participating—

7:45 p.m.

Director, Government Relations, Canadian Electricity Association

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Mr. Anderson, your time has expired.

Thank you, Mr. Smith.

We will now move on.

Ms. Quach, you have five minutes.

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thanks to the witnesses for being here.

I would like to ask Mr. Maas some questions. We are talking a lot about the impact of Bill C-38 on environmental assessment. Under this bill, responsibilities would be delegated to the provinces on the ground that there is duplication. However, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has told us today, through an internal document, that there is in fact no duplication.

In that case, what risks would be incurred? The federal government is transferring these responsibilities to the provinces when there are no uniform standards. This causes a lot of predictability problems. What do you think about that?

7:45 p.m.

Director, Freshwater Program, World Wildlife Fund (Canada)

Tony Maas

Well, my crystal ball is as good as anyone's, so I can only speculate, of course.

Specific to the Fisheries Act, it's important to recognize that there are many, many agreements already in place between the provinces and the federal government around how the federal Fisheries Act is administered, and likewise for conservation authorities.

The question that arises for me is two-fold. One, when considering further delegation to the provinces, there may be questions around the legal authority, the constitutional authority, of provinces to manage fisheries, because that is a federal constitutional responsibility.

From a much closer to the ground perspective, as I said in my opening remarks, there are some very serious issues of resources, whether in the private sector, in the sector that I work in, or in the government sector.

As responsibilities shift, I would feel much safer and more compelled by those changes, if there were some analysis of the degree to which gaps exist in terms of the capacity to respond and protect water resources in fisheries, and some indication of where the resources will come from to fill those gaps.

7:50 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Thank you.

I will continue. There could be resource-related risks, that is to say risks of potential contamination, since we would be letting the provinces manage that or letting the industry manage itself, which is completely senseless.

How could that negatively affect the economy? People do not stop saying that you have to be productive, you have to be competitive, but if we exploit all the resources any way we want, what will be left of them in three generations? Will people still be healthy? How can that affect the economy?

7:50 p.m.

Director, Freshwater Program, World Wildlife Fund (Canada)

Tony Maas

Again, the answer to the latter part of your question is that it remains to be seen.

As an organization, we are very willing to engage in a constructive conversation about how to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of administration of the federal Fisheries Act. But as I said in my opening remarks, I see no reason for the rather sweeping changes.

One of the key challenges I have in understanding what might come to pass, or even speculating on it, is that there are so many undefined terms. While recognizing there's a regulatory process to follow and a commitment by Minister Ashfield to engage and consult with stakeholders—in a written statement, I believe, that he made—it's very challenging to even begin to wrap one's head around, particularly in the very short timeframes that are being proposed, complete definitions of terms that are not common in the current framework around fisheries management, such as “serious harm”, “permanent damage”.

It's a new game. As I said in my opening remarks, I have every faith that the scientific community would be willing to tackle that question, our organization included, but I think those definitions should precede enactment into law.

7:50 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

I have one final question, which concerns the Fisheries Act. The government eliminated more than 1,000 positions at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans this week. We have also learned that toxicology specialists, who are responsible for monitoring pollution in waterways, will be laid off or relocated.

Do you believe that Bill C-38 will help protect these lakes and rivers or that it will exacerbate the situation? What should this bill contain to improve the situation?