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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

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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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 Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

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

8:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative 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 Conservative 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 NDP 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?

8:10 p.m.

As an Individual

Thomas Siddon

Is this for me?

8:10 p.m.

NDP

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

Yes.

8:10 p.m.

As an Individual

Thomas Siddon

I'm glad the member has raised this question of the habitat having broader importance and significance. If you consider the canary in the coal mine example, if the fish aren't happy—I have always liked this picture on the front of our habitat policy, because the fish has a happy face—and healthy in their habitat, you can be assured we humans are not going to be happy or healthy.

There are increasing levels of contaminants, right to the level of endocrine disruptors, pharmaceuticals, and birth control pills, that our sewage treatment plants can't deal with. Our water filtration and sewage treatment systems are costing us hundreds of millions of dollars. In many parts of Canada we'd like to just get back to natural filtration—to wetlands, for example—and not put effluent into some pit up in some hills, or back in the river, but put it into an area where its remaining nutrient value can be put to good use. We have to protect the habitat.

If I could quickly bootleg something, Mr. Anderson suggested that I'm not in favour of consolidating and unifying our ability, working with the provinces. He asked the other two witnesses, but not me. I am in favour of consolidation and restoring efficiency to the administration. If the Minister of Fisheries is not tough enough to bring common sense to the actions of his officials, then somebody else should be doing the job.

The Minister of Fisheries has to be front and centre in this whole environmental review process. If values like the habitat—and it's important to the water we drink—are at all going to be protected, then the federal Minister of Fisheries has to be there. In my time, when the provinces had their own jurisdiction over forestry, mining, and hydroelectric, we were told we should cop out. We were sued many times for the abdication of my fiduciary duty to protect the fishery.

8:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Thank you, Mr. Siddon.

We have gone almost six minutes, Mr. Toone, so you have had plenty of opportunity.

Ms. Ambler is next for five minutes.

8:10 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to our witnesses for being here this evening.

My first question is for Mr. Wojczynski. Do you think a two-year time limit is sufficient for large projects? Do you think that's a reasonable amount of time to assess a project? In general, will bringing timelines into the review process improve the system?

8:10 p.m.

Chair, Board of Directors, Canadian Hydropower Association

Eduard Wojczynski

I think two years is sufficient in virtually all cases. I have had many friends and colleagues comment on that question. I think the critical thing you have to start with is that when you are doing a review of a major project and you have two years, you are not trying to do the studies that are required. You're not trying to do the evaluations that are required. You are not trying to write reports. Those are already supposed to be available with all the information. If they're not, the clock stops and that is not included in the two years. The two years are to assess the information that is available, see if it's adequate, draw conclusions from it, and get public input. Two years is more than enough.

8:10 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Sure. You fill in the safeguards before you get to that point, don't you?

8:10 p.m.

Chair, Board of Directors, Canadian Hydropower Association

Eduard Wojczynski

Yes. The clock doesn't work until you provide the information required. If you don't, you are asked for more.

On your second question, having timelines is a good idea. We've had projects that have gone for four years—very clean, good projects. There was a lot of spinning of wheels, people changing jobs, and having to redo things. If it had been kept to a one-year timeframe, or even two, it would have been more efficient for everybody.

8:10 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Thank you.

Ms. Rempel said approximately 60% of electricity is generated in Canada. I believe in Quebec it's even higher, and somewhere around 75% of power generated is hydroelectric. I'm wondering what the percentage of the total cost of developing and bringing new hydro generation online is related to the EA process.

8:10 p.m.

Chair, Board of Directors, Canadian Hydropower Association

Eduard Wojczynski

First of all, it's much higher than 90% in Quebec. Secondly, on the EA process, if you're developing a project worth $6 billion, there's probably $1 billion of interest in there. You're probably spending $300 million to $500 million on the environmental studies, consultations, and engineering required just to get through the whole process.