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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 video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jacob Irving  President, Canadian Hydropower Association
Eduard Wojczynski  Chair, Board of Directors, Canadian Hydropower Association
Thomas Siddon  As an Individual
Pamela Schwann  Executive Director, Saskatchewan Mining Association
Jean-François Tremblay  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Treaties and Aboriginal Government, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Christian Simard  Executive Director, Nature Québec
Lorne Fisher  Councillor, Corporation of the District of Kent
Stephen Hazell  Senior Counsel, Ecovision Law
Jamie Kneen  Communications Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada
Gregory Thomas  Federal and Ontario Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation

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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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.

8:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Thank you very much, Mr. Trost.

Colleagues, this brings an end to the first—

8:25 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Chair, I have a point of order.

I think it's important that we understand what's in the information here. Clause 150 does not talk about the minister designating to anyone other than another minister, and I think that's important to understand. I hope we haven't been confused by that.

Secondly, in terms of the fines, certainly there are some first offences that start at $5,000, but it should be pointed out that they go up to $12 million. I think there needs to be some clarity on that as well.

8:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Mr. Anderson, I don't believe this is a point of order. If you want to explore it in further lines of questioning with other witnesses, I would encourage you to do it that way, as a matter of debate.

8:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Actually, accuracy should be important.

8:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Accuracy is important, and it needs to be explored through discussion and debate. Disagreement about the facts is not a point of order. It has to be a procedural discussion.

Colleagues, thank you very much for your time.

Mr. Wojczynski, Mr. Siddon, Ms. Schwann, Monsieur Simard, Monsieur Tremblay, thank you very much for coming here tonight.

We're going to suspend for a few minutes and resume with the second part of our meeting.

8:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Okay, thank you very much, colleagues. We are going to resume with the second panel for tonight's meeting. Joining us as our witnesses are: from the Corporation of the District of Kent, Mr. Lorne Fisher, councillor; from Ecovision Law, Mr. Stephen Hazell, senior counsel; from MiningWatch Canada, Mr. Jamie Kneen, communications coordinator; from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Mr. Gregory Thomas, federal and Ontario director; and from the Northwest Territories Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Hughie Graham, president, whom I don't see at the table right now, but I'm hoping will join us shortly.

Without further ado, we're going to proceed in the order in which the witnesses appear on the orders of the day for this committee. We're going to start with Mr. Fisher, for up to 10 minutes, sir.

8:35 p.m.

Lorne Fisher Councillor, Corporation of the District of Kent

Thank you very much.

On behalf of the five municipalities from the Upper Fraser Valley of British Columbia—the City of Chilliwack, the District of Hope, the District of Kent, the Fraser Valley Regional District, and the Village of Harrison Hot Springs—I wish to extend our appreciation to the committee for this invitation to participate in the discussions of the changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, and the Species at Risk Act, as proposed in Bill C-38.

We commend the federal government for taking these initiations to simplify and expedite the approval process for major projects that have environmental implications. As communities that facilitate the corridor for major transmission lines, pipelines, both major railway lines, and the Trans-Canada Highway, we are well aware of the public hearings, etc., that major corporations—such as BC Hydro, Fortis, etc.—have to satisfy in order to expand their services to our communities and to the province of B.C. as a whole.

This is a stringent approval process; however, the efficiency of the present system could be improved. It is hoped that the changes proposed in Bill C-38 will achieve that objective. Time is money, and lengthy delays in the approval process for major projects can result in lost opportunities and can be harmful to the overall economy of our country.

However, of immediate concern to our communities in the Fraser Valley are the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act. The Fraser Valley is a flood plain known for the very high productivity of its soils for forage production—five or six harvests per season—and its specialty crops of fruits and vegetables.

Because of relatively high seasonal rainfalls and high water tables associated with the annual freshet from the Fraser River, it is essential for the productivity of these soils that they be drained effectively. This requires the annual maintenance of a network of engineered ditches that have been constructed to maintain the quality of these soils. The farmland and the surrounding forest and mountains are also drained by natural streams and sloughs that are legitimate fish habitat, and by the Fraser River itself, which of course is habitat for salmon and other species of fish such as the sturgeon.

The conflict between the farmers and the municipalities on the one hand, and the Fisheries Act and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans personnel on the other, is DFO's insistence that agricultural drainage ditches are fish habitat and therefore subject to the DFO directives based on the Fisheries Act. Therefore, obtaining approvals for annual drainage maintenance and routine culvert and bridge repair has become a major expense for the municipalities and a source of frustration for the farmers.

For the District of Kent, whose major industry is agriculture, 80% of the drainage costs are due to direct and indirect costs of getting approvals and permits from DFO. The proposed changes in the definition of fish habitat, as stated in Bill C-38, would limit fish habitat to streams, sloughs, and rivers, which are the habitat of the commercial fishery, and hopefully they will exclude agriculture drainage systems from being designated as fish habitat.

Similarly, if routine ditch maintenance is considered to result in the destruction of fish habitat, the municipalities whose ditches were involved must have provided compensation in the past, in the form of establishing new riparian areas that must be maintained in perpetuity. This requirement may be justified if natural streams are involved; however, it should not be required for ditches that are dry for a significant portion of the year. It is our interpretation that the proposed changes in Bill C-38 would eliminate the requirement of this form of compensation when drainage ditches are cleaned.

The Fraser Valley has a moderate climate, which has resulted in the identification of some waterways as home to species that are rare in Canada, such as the Salish sucker, Nooksack dace, and the Oregon spotted frog—which obviously belongs in Oregon.

That was not a problem for the municipalities until the Salish sucker and the Nooksack dace were declared endangered species by the federal Species at Risk Act, and the Oregon spotted frog was designated endangered by the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. These two species, the Oregon spotted frog and the Salish sucker, share the same habitat, except the Salish sucker prefers deep, shady, cool waterways, and the Oregon spotted frog prefers sunny, grassy ponds.

The frustration for municipal staff is that they may get a permit for drainage maintenance from the federal DFO, only to have it forestalled by the staff of the provincial ministry. This type of conflict does not appear to have been recognized in the proposed changes to the Species at Risk Act. For the species that occur in only a very limited area of one province, it is suggested that their designation as a species at risk should be left up to the province that they call home rather than up to the federal act.

In the past year, DFO staff have been very diligent at holding public hearings to discuss with farmers, industry, and municipal staff the implications of establishing a critical habitat for the Salish sucker in the Fraser Valley. The maps of these designated areas of critical habitat were provided in the draft of the proposed recovery strategy for the Salish sucker. The suggested restrictions on the use of agricultural land and the management and development of streamside urban properties, as occurs in the village of Harrison Hot Springs, are major restrictions on the value and the use of land.

Of greater concern, in spite of many requests from the public, DFO could not or would not provide a cost-benefit analysis for the establishment of this critical habitat nor would it commit to a population for the species deemed as suitable. In fact, the strategy states that it is likely that the species will remain at risk for the foreseeable future. There are changes to the Species at Risk Act, which are proposed in Bill C-38, that should eliminate some of this degree of uncertainty.

A number of issues have been identified in these very short introductory remarks. We look forward to further discussions related to the suggested changes in the legislation concerning both the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act. Thank you.

8:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Thank you very much, Mr. Fisher.

We now move on to Mr. Hazell for up to 10 minutes, please.

8:45 p.m.

Stephen Hazell Senior Counsel, Ecovision Law

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the committee this evening on a very important matter for Canada's environment and for sustainable development.

My message to the committee is this: less haste, more speed. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, by virtue of Bill C-38, will be repealed in total. It's not a tweak. It's not just about streamlining and timeframes, as was suggested in the budget documents. You are repealing an entire federal statute, and you are replacing it with another that includes a number of new concepts that have not been tested.

Many of the recent comments by several ministers have focused on the perceived need to streamline environmental assessments, such as by authorizing the substitution of federal reviews by provincial reviews, and to ensure that panel reviews are completed within reasonable timeframes. While Bill C-38 proposes many important and mainly unwise amendments to achieve streamlining and certainty in panel review timeframes, these are far from the most important changes to environmental assessment proposed in Bill C-38.

In the time I have available I want to touch on three main areas of concern that I have with respect to the bill.

The first thing is that the bill would essentially eliminate the legal requirement to carry out project environmental assessments. This will mean far fewer assessments and much narrower assessments of those project assessments that do occur. How does this work? Right now under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act all triggered federal projects require assessment unless they've been excluded by regulation or by operation of the statute. Now, only projects that have been designated pursuant to a regulation would be subject to the act.

Let me pause here to say that we have not yet seen a draft of this regulation, although we do know that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has been working on it. It is absolutely imperative for this committee to see that regulation before signing off on anything.

We don't know how long or how short this list of designated projects will be. We understand that the government is making use of the comprehensive study list regulations, the current regulations, as a template for that. At the moment, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act registry lists 39 comprehensive studies being undertaken and 11 panel reviews. So a fairly small number of comprehensive studies and panel reviews are being undertaken. Under the new law, roughly 4,000 environmental-screening assessments being undertaken annually under CEAA would be eliminated.

There will be a fairly small number of so-called designated projects that will be subject to the act. But that doesn't mean they will actually be assessed for their environmental effects. Proposed paragraph 10(b) of CEAA 2012 gives the Environmental Assessment Agency the authority to make the determination that these designated projects not be subject to environmental assessment. In effect, there could be very few environmental assessments of projects undertaken pursuant to the new law.

Scott Vaughan, the parliamentary commissioner, was here yesterday. He estimates that 20 to 30 environmental assessments will be undertaken under the new law. I would suggest that this amounts to an abandonment by the federal government of environmental assessment. Thus the new bill could well be an empty vessel, with very few environmental assessments actually being carried out.

If this is the case, and if the new bill is applied to a mere handful of projects annually, it really doesn't matter what the rest of the legislation says with respect to timelines, substitution, equivalency, and public participation. The fact is that there's going to be very little environmental assessment activity happening at all.

My second point relates to the abundance of discretion in the bill.

I would say that CEAA 2012 is not so much a law imposing requirements for the conduct of environmental assessments as it is a statute enabling the exercise of discretion by ministers and responsible authorities. The new bill provides broad discretion to the agency and the environment minister to determine that the environmental assessment of a project is not required, to scope the factors to reconsider the environmental assessment, and to determine whether a provincial project is “an appropriate substitute” for the federal process.

This will inevitably result in the politicization of environmental assessment and consequent delays. Right now we have clear rules. We're substituting those clear rules with discretion in the hands of the agency's responsible authorities and the minister.

For example, assume that aggregate quarries on the scale of the proposed Melancthon quarry in southern Ontario are listed as a designated project by regulation. The first step of the proponent of such a quarry could well be, through obtaining an Ottawa lobbyist, to pressure the agency and the minister to exercise the proposed paragraph 10(b) discretion to ensure that no environmental assessment is required, or failing that, to exercise proposed subsection 19(2) discretion to scope the environmental assessment of the quarry down to a stream crossing.

This sort of thing does go on, I'm afraid.

My third point relates to increased litigation risks.

There will be increased litigation risks because we have a brand new piece of legislation with many new concepts that are being incorporated using terms such as designated project, environmental effects, interested party, appropriate substitute. This legislation has been developed in secret—I would suggest in haste—without the benefit of other experts, whether from industry or from civil society, and that means there are likely going to be many mistakes.

I note that the cone of silence approach that has been taken with respect to this bill is strikingly different from that undertaken with respect to previous environmental assessment laws. The original Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in 1992 was preceded by several years of public discussion and three different bills tabled in Parliament.

The major amendments to CEAA in 2003 were also preceded by a public consultation led by the agency, as well as the House of Commons environment committee hearings.

In addition, there was a multi-stakeholder process called the regulatory advisory committee, which had industry, environmental groups, first nations, provinces, and federal departments that worked over draft regulations to ensure they were right, before they came into force.

Unfortunately, we have none of that now. I do suggest that the use of a multi-stakeholder body would be an important way to get this legislation right. The government does have some record in this. I've been a part of a multi-stakeholder group that has been working on the air quality management strategy, which has had industry representatives and environmental groups, as well as provincial governments led by the Government of Alberta, and we're very close to a national deal that will reduce smog emissions in this country as part of a multi-stakeholder process, not a unilateral process.

I've only touched on a few of the many grave concerns that I have with this legislation, and certainly this subcommittee faces a significant challenge in trying to understand the bill, first of all, understand the comments of witnesses, and propose amendments that could mitigate the, frankly, devastating impacts that this legislation will have on Canada's natural environment.

Less haste will yield more speed and a better law.

My recommendation is that this subcommittee remove the proposed CEAA 2012 from Bill C-38, and propose to the overall finance committee that it be referred to the House of Commons environment and sustainable development committee for its review. I would further suggest that this review be done in collaboration with some multi-stakeholder group.

I would have suggested the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, but obviously that's not possible.

My final comment is that I want to repeat something I said before.

I think it's really important that this committee have that draft designated projects regulation in front of it before you wind up your hearings. I believe that the committee should ask the Minister of the Environment for that regulation before you wind up your process here.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

8:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Thank you, Mr. Hazell.

We'll go to Mr. Kneen, for up to 10 minutes, please.

8:55 p.m.

Jamie Kneen Communications Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you for the invitation.

I am here today as a representative of MiningWatch Canada, a national non-governmental organization—not a charity—and as co-chair of the environmental planning and assessment caucus of the Canadian Environmental Network, which brings together some 60 groups and environmental assessment experts from across the country.

I'm here to urge you to ensure that the environmental provisions of Bill C-38 are given proper consultation and debate.

Part 3 of C-38, with which we are concerned today, is seriously flawed, and in our view, to allow it to proceed without very major amendment would be irresponsible. With all due respect to the experience and knowledge of this committee, there is simply no way of adequately addressing part 3 as part of C-38. These provisions must be separated and debated on their own, and if need be, removed and resubmitted to a new legislative process.

The government is arguing that the new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, CEAA 2012, and related measures must be passed as part of the budget process, because they are urgently required to protect and promote investment and development.

The urgency is clearly manufactured. The existing Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was referred for review by Parliament two years ago. The government did nothing for 16 months, and it had actually dropped efforts by the minister's own regulatory advisory committee, as well as the caucus, to prepare for the review going back several years before that.

Just as importantly, these measures are more likely to exacerbate uncertainty and delay, which will ultimately put development projects at risk and drive away investment.

I would like to focus on three key problems in the new act: the abdication of federal responsibility over the environment; the abandonment of the principles of sustainable development and the integration of those principles into decision-making; and the serious diminution of public participation and the opportunity to fulfill government's obligations towards aboriginal peoples. I am not here to speak for aboriginal peoples, and I will not focus extensively on those issues, but both MiningWatch and the caucus have serious concerns in this area.

In place of a positive assertion of a federal role in EA, the act explicitly limits federal authority to specific regulatory jurisdiction, as in proposed paragraph 5(1)(a). This flies in the face of the Supreme Court's rulings in Oldman and MiningWatch, and ensures that federal environmental assessment will have no meaningful relation to ecological or social reality. This will make it all but impossible to establish any kind of consistent national practice.

The substitution and equivalency provisions do precisely what the caucus and others have studied and warned against. It will create a patchwork of inconsistent EA application, both within the federal government and between federal and provincial processes. Rather than seeking to use the federal regime as a backstop for coordinated and harmonized processes, it is to be broken up among agencies with different mandates, structures, and capacities—the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the NEB, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission—and will be further devolved to provincial and land claims mandated processes that have little in common with each other. The contrast between the federal and the B.C. assessments of the Prosperity mine project, which should have undergone a joint review, provides an excellent case study.

By weakening the federal role and splitting up federal assessments among several federal agencies and provincial and territorial EA processes, CEAA 2012 actually balkanizes EA across about 19 very different processes. It's certainly no longer a one-window approach. And given the weakness of its transboundary and regional assessment provisions, it's also doubtful that it will result in having “one project, one assessment”.

In terms of integrated decision-making, while the designated project list approach to triggering an environmental assessment is not necessarily a bad thing, the way it is used in this act is problematic. It's one thing to focus assessment efforts on larger projects with potentially more significant impacts, but in our view, it is a mistake to do so without making any effort to ensure that there are mechanisms to ensure that smaller projects are tracked, monitored, and, as necessary, assessed. At the same time, rather than integrating sustainable development, the screening process and the layers of discretion on whether an assessment will actually be undertaken and what its scope will be will tend to relegate environmental assessment to the margins of decision-making, both for projects and for regulators.

In addition, any mention of strategic environmental assessment—the assessment of policies, plans, and programs—has disappeared completely.

With regard to public participation, that is a key element in environmental assessment. Here, it is curtailed by the restricted number of projects being assessed, diminished opportunities for public participation, and artificially imposed timelines. If you recall, the Supreme Court did back MiningWatch in its decision on the Red Chris mine review, which was based on the guarantee of public participation in comprehensive studies under the 2003 CEAA amendments.

The new act promises public participation, but it provides no criteria and no guarantee that this promise will be carried into substitute processes. It contemplates participant funding only for panel reviews. Regardless, the arbitrarily compressed timeframes imposed under the new act will make meaningful public participation almost impossible. It's important to note that while the act imposes strict limits on the time available for public involvement and specifies only limited options for federal agencies to extend their time, it places no restriction whatsoever on the time a proponent may take in responding to information requests, or to change and resubmit project plans, which they do quite regularly.

In addition, and in combination with the inconsistency created by substitution and equivalency provisions, artificial timelines will make it very difficult for aboriginal communities to fully participate in environmental assessments, in recognition of their constitutionally protected rights. In short, even giving the most generous benefit of the doubt to both the formulation of the act's absent schedules and regulations, and the application of ministerial and bureaucratic discretion—in the general absence of useful criteria, I might add—the key features of this act cannot produce robust, effective, and efficient environmental assessment.

In its key aspects, it makes the process significantly less predictable and consistent. It limits its utility as a forum for establishing a social licence to operate and for fulfilling the Crown's obligation to obtain the free, prior-informed consent of aboriginal peoples for development projects affecting their lands and livelihoods.

The public has an expectation of fair treatment before the law. I would not be the first to note that in the absence of a public process that is perceived to be fair and that allows for the fulfilment of aboriginal peoples' rights, people will tend to take matters into their own hands. Lawsuits and direct action will also create greater uncertainty and unpredictability, and can reasonably be expected to more than counter any anticipated efficiency gains.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that faced with complex legal and jurisdictional questions, and under pressure from the provinces and some industry sectors, the government has chosen to basically throw up its hands and walk away from all but its essential legal obligations. That is simply not acceptable.

Thank you.

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Thank you very much, Mr. Kneen, for your presentation.

We now move to our final presenter.

Mr. Thomas, for up to 10 minutes, please, sir.

9:05 p.m.

Gregory Thomas Federal and Ontario Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

My name is Gregory Thomas. I'm the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. We are Canada's oldest and largest taxpayer advocacy group, founded in 1990, with 72,000 supporters across the country.

We appreciate the invitation to participate in these hearings and will welcome your questions.

I think it's no secret that the process of environmental assessment is not a popular one in Canada on any side. Mr. Kneen has a copy of the comparison of the British Columbia and the federal assessments of the Prosperity mine, which is a $1 billion project that would have generated tens of thousands of jobs in British Columbia. The federal government blocked that project, yet everyone who participated in the whole process was unhappy with it, regardless of the outcome. It was long, time-consuming, and costly for the people who were trying to build the mine; and costly for the people who were trying to oppose it.

The universal belief at the end was that the key issues hadn't been addressed, and that as a civil society we hadn't come together to figure out how to build that mine in a way that would not affect the environment for all generations. So it was a long, costly, and frustrating process. What we recognize as taxpayers increasingly is that environmental assessment processes attract the involvement of people who bring nothing new to the table. They bring nothing new in the way of facts, new information, research, or constructive proposals on how we can move forward and protect the environment, create jobs, and work together.

So the process is broken and I believe the amendments to the legislation contained here represent, at the very least, an attempt by a government in Canada to address the fact that the process is broken and serves people very poorly.

I will speak to what I believe is an overlooked element of environmental assessment that the government needs to incorporate into its future process, and that is the whole issue of quantifying damage and of quantifying the costs, both of legislation, regulation, and new development. We know that in the case of the Prosperity mine in British Columbia there were costs imposed on the environment, on the traditional hunting and fishing, on the aboriginal peoples' traditional territories, and on the environment itself.

We also know there are massive financial benefits that could be extracted to offset those costs. But what we found was that in a sea of inflammatory rhetoric, there was insufficient will on the part of all the players to create a situation that would lead to increased prosperity for everyone and protection of the environment. There was a win there, and collectively, we weren't able to work to that win. Collectively, at the end of the road a tremendous amount of public money had been spent, and there had been no constructive outcome.

A similar example is the Mackenzie Valley pipeline.

I think it's fair to say there's quite a bit of public support for the Mackenzie Valley pipeline in 2012, and yet processes have ground on so long that the natural gas price will no longer support the construction of the pipeline. So you have a situation where communities in the Northwest Territories are converting from natural gas back to diesel fuel, because they no longer have access to supply.

We've seen historically where a failure to quantify the economic value of the way we manage natural resources has had catastrophic outcomes, if you look at the Newfoundland cod fishery, or as was discussed the night before last in this committee, the Great Lakes fishery. Decisions were taken piecemeal to destroy fisheries habitat and no one quantified the value of what was being destroyed.

I'm happy that Mr. Fisher is here from the Upper Fraser Valley, because we have a large number of supporters who live in the municipalities he discussed. I think possibly there was something in it when they sent someone named Fisher to represent the farmers.

In that situation, there's been no effort to quantify the costs and benefits of the species at risk protection initiatives that are being undertaken in the Upper Fraser Valley. Canada has one of the most poorly developed systems of recognizing the damage that's done to individuals by government regulation. Whereas in Europe, both at the state level and the European Union level, the regulations that are being unleashed on the farmers in the Fraser Valley would automatically trigger massive financial compensation, in Canada we can basically neutralize farmers' land, flood it, leave it under water. These people are subjected to hundreds of thousands of dollars of costs and there's no compensation.

Mr. Fisher referred to the Nooksack dace and the Salish sucker, which are identified as species at risk. In the case of these species, activist groups actually went to court to force DFO to develop plans to protect these species. So it wasn't even an initiative originally of the Government of Canada; they were forced into it by their own legislation. Because there is no way to quantify the massive costs of the protection plans that are being proposed, and the costs to individuals aren't even considered in our legal system, you get environmental initiatives with massive, outrageous, exponential costs on individuals.

One of the most hilarious things about this particular plan that Mr. Fisher is here to talk about is that one of the original and largest habitats for the Salish sucker is on the Little Campbell River, where the species was extirpated approximately 30 years ago. Little Campbell River is in the middle of the largest regional park in greater Vancouver, Campbell River Park. Given the choice of setting up a program in a regional park that would actually have an on-budget impact—the Government of Canada would have to go to taxpayers and say, “We're taxing you and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore this obscure fish to a thriving status”—instead it's costing hundreds and hundreds of thousands, possibly even millions of dollars in damage to individuals to reclaim farmers' ditches for the same purpose. This is a perverse thing that we hope this committee and this government will put to a finish.

Thank you.

9:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Thank you, Mr. Thomas.

To the witnesses, we are going to now proceed with rounds of questions and answers. I would hope you would have your earpieces ready. Some members of the committee will choose to use either of the official languages. If you operate in only one language, I don't want you to be caught off guard.

We will start with our first round of seven minutes for questions.

Mr. Anderson.

9:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the witnesses for being here tonight.

Mr. Thomas, in one of your news releases you used the word overzealous. You talked about the overzealous interpretation of the rules by DFO. Do you think the situation we're talking about here is just overzealousness, or do you think that we actually need to make these changes to the legislation in order to make the kind of changes that you're talking about?