Evidence of meeting #69 for Finance in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site.) The winning word was clause.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

Okay. I just wanted to clarify.

I think what we'll do, if it's agreeable to members...we can have a general debate. Then I'll ask you to move each one and we'll have a vote on each one. I assume you want to have a vote. We will group the ones I mentioned, the 20 that deal with the same topic, but we will ask you to move the rest of them.

I'll just clarify with respect to one of them, NDP-2, that if the last paragraph is left in there, it's inadmissible. That's the paragraph that says, “Now, therefore, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows”. I'm assuming you'd want to take out that paragraph. That then makes the amendment admissible.

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

You're referring to the assessment by a review panel?

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

No, this is just the final paragraph in NDP-2.

Do you have NDP-2 in front of you?

What I'll do, Mr. Chisholm, is continue with a general discussion.

Again, I'll just encourage members to speak to as many specific topics as they can. I have Ms. McLeod on the list, so I'll go to Ms. McLeod. If others wish to speak, please let me know.

As I mentioned, I'm being flexible on the motion in terms of time, in order to have a good discussion, and then we'll go to the specific amendments. We'll just have them moved and then we'll have a vote on each one.

I will go to Ms. McLeod.

Any further members, just indicate to me, please.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I think most importantly.... For many, many years I was involved in municipal-level government, and then there was provincial, and the thing I heard about over and over and over again was the unnecessary duplication, the incredible frustration. I think in British Columbia, they just had a project finally approved after 15 years in an environmental assessment process.

We believe we need to move forward and hit that balance—that balance between giving yeses or noes to those people who are moving through the process, between having a very rigorous environmental assessment process that protects the environment while allowing important projects to move forward.

With respect to the comments by the chair, I'll speak specifically to the first amendment, which is the proposed amendment NDP-2

I think it's important to say that this preamble is not necessary for the operation of our Environmental Assessment Act, and it actually doesn't line up well with the body of the legislation. We've taken the approach of four pillars of responsible resource development. Those pillars include more predictable and timely reviews, as it shouldn't take someone 15 years for a ski resort to be approved; reduced duplication, as we shouldn't have the same answers going to the province and then to the federal government eight to ten years apart, which is just an incredible waste of time and resources, when it is the same question; strengthened environmental protection; and enhanced consultation with aboriginal groups, absolutely recognizing the important partnership and consultation that needs to happen.

You know, if the NDP looked at it in the whole, they'd certainly recognize and see that on pages 35 to 37 we have a much stronger statement about the context of the act, and that therefore the proposed preamble is actually unnecessary.

Again, I think what we need to do is look at the important things we're trying to accomplish, the important pillars, and really to move forward in a strong and positive way for both our responsible resource development and protecting our environment.

Thank you.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

Thank you, Ms. McLeod.

I have Ms. Nash, and then Mr. Brison.

June 4th, 2012 / 5:40 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

I know there is very little time that rests with us. The rules are that we have five minutes per clause. We appreciate that we are getting a few extra minutes, but generally, this process is one that I think not only disappoints us, but it frustrates Canadians.

We're disappointed that the government hasn't pursued these environmental changes through more democratic channels, such as the relevant standing committees, which would be the normal process, where members could have met with the experts, scientists, stakeholders, and others about all these proposed changes. The subcommittee had barely 12 hours on four consecutive days to review and assess major changes affecting 69 statutes, including a repeal of key legislation.

The entire Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was repealed and a new act has been introduced in a single clause, clause 52, which we are debating now, which runs 63 pages. In fact, page 152 of the bill is devoted to dismantling and rewriting key environmental laws in Canada. It has not undergone proper scrutiny. It's not going to have the benefit of public consultations. It's impossible to know how Canadians, the environment, and our economy are going to be affected by these changes, because we will not have had the benefit of due process in order to scrutinize these proposals.

My colleague was talking about fish habitat, which is vital to so many of our communities. We talk about strengthening the economy. If we undermine fish habitat, it undermines the economy of so many of our communities, not to mention the environment that we all rely on. It's only through thorough and proper environmental assessment and strong regulations and strong enforcement that we ensure we do not create environmental and financial burdens for future generations.

I just want to get on the record once again how undemocratic it is to include all of these environmental changes in the bill. One-third of this omnibus budget bill is coming through the finance committee, when these changes should more appropriately be before other committees.

While we are making a number of proposed amendments to specific clauses, it is the fundamental process that we object to. I wanted to get that on the record.

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

Thank you, Ms. Nash.

Mr. Brison.

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Chair, we have great concerns about the approach being taken. After 16 hours of studying what the environment commissioner has said is the most significant policy reform in environmental regulatory policy in 40 years in Canada, we're left with questions.

For example, what proportion of current assessments will no longer receive federal oversight given the repeal of the CEAA? What are the projected costs of the changes for each province and territory? What assessment of the adequacy of the environmental assessment process in each province and territory has been conducted? How will a federal project define whether or not a provincial process is equivalent to the federal process? These questions have not been answered.

National Chief Atleo said specifically that:

To date, first nations have not been engaged or consulted on any of the changes to the environmental and resource development regime proposed within Bill C-38.

There is a constitutional reality of self-government and treaty rights and a moral responsibility of any government to engage aboriginal and first nations on the changes to the fisheries.

We heard from a very respected former minister of fisheries—who happened to be a Progressive Conservative minister of fisheries—who said that these changes

...are totally watering down and emasculating the Fisheries Act.... They [will] really tak[e] the guts out of the Fisheries Act and it's in devious little ways if you read all the fine print [that] they are making...Swiss cheese out of [it].

The real scary part of this is that the one minister in Canada who has the constitutional duty to protect the fishery, which includes habitat, is the Fisheries Minister and these amendments essentially parcel out and water down his fiduciary responsibility, to the point that...he can delegate his responsibility to private-sector interests and individuals.

Again, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, I know that in the main body of the report the government members of the committee have expunged much of this testimony, but it's on the record. We've been given scant time as parliamentarians to do our jobs on this. The reality is that we are railroading these changes through Parliament without adequate consideration of the consequences, including many of the unintended consequences that will result from these changes.

I think it's very frustrating to Canadians. It's very frustrating to Canadians who are concerned about the environment. It is worrisome to Canadians who believe strongly in engagement with aboriginal and first nations people. It is something that could have devastating effects on our fisheries. I think overall it is also extremely disillusioning for Canadians who want to have a strong Parliament and a functional democracy.

I reiterate that for a political party whose genesis in part was the Reform Party, which came to Ottawa partly on the basis of accountability and respect for citizens and engagement...earlier today, I almost said Preston Manning would be rolling in his grave, but I realized he's not dead. I would say many of the principles he stood for when first elected are in the Conservative movement today. It is very disillusioning, I think, for Canadians who want to see Parliament work. I think it is one reason that we're seeing only about 20% of first-time eligible voters actually voting, because they don't think Parliament matters, and the Conservatives are ensuring that it doesn't matter.

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

Thank you, Mr. Brison.

I do have two more speakers on the list, and then I'll move to the amendments and the votes.

I have Ms. Leslie, briefly, and then Ms. Glover, please.

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Thanks very much, Mr. Chair. And thank you to the finance committee. It's wonderful to be here.

I normally sit on the environment committee. We studied this at the finance subcommittee on the environment, but we also studied changes to the Environmental Assessment Act at the environment committee. We heard from a number of witnesses, all of whom had excellent recommendations. We didn't agree with all of them, but there was a suite of recommendations there.

What's happening with this budget bill does not reflect the testimony we heard at our committee. For example, industry representatives said one way to actually streamline and make sure these assessments are done efficiently is to properly fund the agency. You don't see that kind of recommendation here. You don't see that in the budget bill.

The NDP has brought forward amendments to try to make this bill better when it comes to environmental assessments. We heard from witnesses who said we will see lawsuits as a result of this. There will be lawsuits. We heard witnesses who said there's only one chance to get this right when it comes to environmental assessment. The environment commissioner talked about things like the Sydney Tar Ponds, where there wasn't an environmental assessment, and now we're on the hook for it, for $1 billion. About half of that is federal money.

We need a robust environmental assessment system.

The environment commissioner also talked about the fact that currently we do 4,000 to 6,000 environmental assessments a year. That's going to go down to about 20 to 30 a year—not 20,000 to 30,000, but 20 to 30 assessments per year. This is not the way to make changes to the Environmental Assessment Act. The NDP believe strongly that the act needs to be modernized. We are 100% behind making amendments to the act, but this is not the way to do it. I would suggest that this finance committee heed the NDP's dissenting report when we did study the Environmental Assessment Act, because there are some very good recommendations in there.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

Thank you, Ms. Leslie.

We'll go to Ms. Glover, and then I'll move to the amendments.

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Saint Boniface, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I do want to thank my colleagues across the way for their interest in the bill. I can't agree with the statements that have been made by the members of the NDP or the Liberals. In fact, I would say that this bill has received a huge amount of time to study. Not only that, throughout pre-budget consultations by the finance committee, which took place over almost 10 months of the previous year, we heard from a number of people who also had commentary in favour of the four pillars that we've put forward.

I know that Ms. McLeod already talked about the four pillars, which talk about predictability and timing of reviews, about aboriginal consultation, which is very important. And it's important that all parties actually do their homework when it comes time to looking at these bills. Delay for delay's sake, frankly, is just obstruction.

This government is committed to moving forward to protect Canadians' interests. This bill does that. This bill is supported by a number of agencies, a number of organizations, a number of aboriginal people, including Chief Clarence (Manny) Jules, who was very clear with the subcommittee about the benefits of this bill. Aboriginal people are protected under the Constitution. Contrary to what was said earlier, their rights to consultation are protected under the Constitution. We will continue to observe those rights, as we have done all the way along.

But let's not forget there were experts who did come to both committees, the subcommittee and this committee, such as Mr. Ray Orb, from the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, like so many others.

We believe, as a government, that this is important to not only the economy of Canada, but to the future generations who follow us—to our children, to our grandchildren, and to those who come after us. We believe in environmental protections so that we sustain our environment for generations to come. This bill does that. It enhances environmental protections in many ways. I would hope that in the future opposition members, rather than just delaying for the sake of delaying, actually look at the measures in the bill.

An extraordinary amount of time has been given to this bill, more than in 20 years, when you compare it to other bills of previous parliaments. We've been very generous and flexible. Unfortunately, many times critics didn't show up. NDP and Liberal members didn't even show up for the briefing, but I can't prevent that. The briefing is not—

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

Let's stay away from members' being somewhere or not. Let's honour the tradition in the House, which is to not refer to absences.

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Saint Boniface, MB

Well, the briefing is different.

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

Okay, but I would just suggest we stay away from that. Briefings were made available and members availed themselves.