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Evidence of meeting #8 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was projects.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

John Bennett  Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada
Jennifer Jackson  Executive Director, Canadian Water and Wastewater Association
Sandra Schwartz  Vice-President, Policy Advocacy, Canadian Electricity Association
Terry Toner  Representative, Canadian Electricity Association, and Director, Environmental Services, Nova Scotia Power Inc.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Mr. Bennett, I'm assuming you're aware of a gentleman by the name of Stephen Hazell. Are you acquainted with him? I have a copy of a paper he delivered on behalf of the Sierra Club of Canada to the Forum of Federations on September 14, 2009. I also have a paper he delivered to the Queen's Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy on April 15, 2011, and in it he spoke about the significant shortcomings of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. One that he identified was too much sweating of small stuff, legal requirements for small projects.

Do you agree that this is a significant shortcoming of the current Canadian Environmental Assessment Act?

12:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada

Dr. John Bennett

I think we could make improvements in how we deal with the small ones, but I don't think there's too much sweat. The small ones can be important as well as the big ones. We don't want to have a system in which we don't look at all at the small ones.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Hazell presented a paper on October 14, 2010, as eco-justice counsel to the OAIA Conference. The paper dealt with revisiting the first principles of EA. It asked whether most CEAA screenings weren't rubber-stamping and a waste of time and resources, and whether CEAA would do better to focus on fewer large projects and ensure that EAs are done well.

Do you think those are important questions to be asked?

12:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada

Dr. John Bennett

I'm not sure there was a question there.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Do you agree with Mr. Hazell that these are important questions to ask? Aren't most CEAA screenings rubber-stamping and a waste of time and resources, and should CEAA focus on fewer larger projects and ensure EAs are done well?

12:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada

Dr. John Bennett

When he said they are a waste of time and a rubber stamp, I think he was referring to the way the government has gone about doing it, failing to make sure those screenings are done properly. A lot of questions arise during screenings, and I've had a lot of people across the country pick up the phone and tell me this or that screening has missed something. I think that's what he's referring to. I represent an organization that has a lot of grassroots people in small groups across the country, and we want to make sure all the projects get the kind of scrutiny they require.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

In the paper I just mentioned, one of the suggestions for reform that Mr. Hazell proposed was to focus CEAA on bigger projects, with better EAs, to ease provincial and private sector concerns.

Do you agree with that suggestion for reform from Mr. Hazell?

12:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Now, one of the projects that I think was discussed in our evidence was about an expansion of a maple syrup operation. I understand that CEAA requires an environmental assessment because it's funded by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Are you aware of the case I'm speaking about?

12:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada

Dr. John Bennett

No, I'm not.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

You're not.

Do you think that if a maple syrup bush is expanding it needs to be subject to an environmental assessment under the CEAA?

12:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada

Dr. John Bennett

It probably should be reviewed, but it shouldn't be a significant burden or expense.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

I guess there's a difference between an assessment and a permitting, and I wouldn't take issue that a permit ought to be obtained and that some review could occur at that time.

But do you think an environmental assessment is necessary for the expansion of a maple sugar bush?

12:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada

Dr. John Bennett

There may be other issues involved, so I couldn't say without knowing the details of that particular bush. Generally speaking, if it's adding a few hundred acres next to the 200 acres they have, I wouldn't have a problem. But there may be other issues that are a concern. We'd have to look at the details.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

The reason this becomes an issue is because of the “all in unless excluded approach” of the CEAA, which says that a sugar maple bush expansion must have an environmental assessment since it's not excluded.

Do you think that principle is a correct one?

12:40 p.m.

Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

You do, okay.

12:40 p.m.

Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada

Dr. John Bennett

You could put regulations in place on how you approach that. I'm sure that assessment did not have a full-panel hearing and it did not take five years.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

No. In fact, 99% of the environmental assessments, as I understand it, are done by screenings.

12:40 p.m.

Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada

Dr. John Bennett

Absolutely.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Nonetheless, it's still more than just permitting and perhaps using resources that might be better employed elsewhere. But I understand your position on the subject.

I did have another question for—

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Your time is up, Mr. Woodworth. It goes very quickly.

Ms. Duncan, you have five minutes. Welcome back.

November 1st, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you all so much for coming. We really appreciate your time, your effort, and your testimony.

The 2010 changes to CEAA gave the minister the power to limit the scope of a project defined by a proponent that is subject to an environmental assessment. During the testimony, we heard the agency state that the minister has not yet used this power.

Mr. Bennett, I'm wondering about your opinion of this change.

12:40 p.m.

Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada

Dr. John Bennett

I don't think that stage is the time for a political decision. The public should have a chance to have some input and reaction to a project before the minister decides not to have a hearing or that it's going to be divided into pieces.

That's an unnecessary power that I think the minister should not have, nor exercise.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Who should make scoping decisions under CEAA? I'll ask you that question.