No, I can't say that? I am very sorry. I was not aware I could not say his name. That is fine. I will not mention his name again.
The current government is holding fast to its long-held and false assumptions that protecting the environment always comes with a significant impact on the economy. If this trade-off ever existed, it has long been replaced, at least in informed circles, by the need to move into the new economy.
The International Energy Agency weighed in this week by saying that Canada's record to date in addressing greenhouse gases suggests meeting even the meagre targets committed by Canada at Copenhagen “will present policymakers across the country with an immense test. It remains unclear how national targets are to be co-ordinated, divided and enforced among the provinces and territories.”
The IEA recommended that Canada produce a more coordinated national energy efficiency policy. Counted among many others who have recommended federal action on national energy efficiency are the former Conservative trade minister and chair of the Energy Policy Institute of Canada, David Emerson, and the right-of-centre Alberta-based Canada West Foundation.
Yet, what the government delivers in this budget is cuts to the very programs that were enabling more efficient energy use, including the highly popular eco-energy home retrofit program.
While the current government argues that it is in sync with the United States, nothing could be further from the truth. The United States government is proceeding with bills and expenditures focused on U.S. energy security and sustainability, encompassing actions on climate and energy efficiency and investments in renewables. The U.S. clearly gets it. When will the current government get on board?
However, I wish to focus particularly on part 20 of this bill. There is clear intent in this part to erase environmental considerations from all federal stimulus spending and to emasculate the remainder of federal reviews. The proposed legal reforms directly contradict the legal mandate of the environment minister.
The Department of the Environment grants the minister his powers, duties and responsibilities. And contrary to the minister's assertions that his responsibility is to balance economy and environment, nowhere in that act, which mandates his power, is there any mention of that need to balance.
The intent of part 20 directly contradicts one of the minister's duties; that is, to require the assessment of any new federal projects. The minister's duty to assess impacts was first abrogated in last year's budget when the Navigable Waters Protection Act was eviscerated.
If Bill C-9 is passed, the majority of federally funded projects will be exempted.
First, part 20 of the bill exempts a large swath of federally funded projects from a key regulatory trigger: federal financing. This is done despite the fact the majority of projects merely undergo an initial screening.
Second, the government is responding to recent court rulings confirming federal responsibilities to assess project impacts, by simply empowering the minister to narrow the scope of any assessment.
The most obvious question is: Why are these significant amendments to the federal law included in a budget implementation bill?
The legally required review of the federal law, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, is slated to come before the parliamentary committee within weeks. Unlike the process for this bill, reviews before the parliamentary committee allow detailed consideration and hearing from all the affected stakeholders.
Is this simply another example of the failed promises on transparency and participation in governance?
Next, is this emasculation of federal impact assessment simply being done to save money. And if so, is it money for the government or for industrial proponents?
Where is the evidence of this alleged unnecessary duplication and overlap? The government has yet to table a single example.
The key to considering the appropriateness of this reform is the recognition of federal jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Canada has, in a series of decisions, clearly upheld federal jurisdiction and responsibility for the environment, including environmental impact assessment.
One of the most frequently cited Supreme Court cases is the decision on Friends of the Oldman River Society vs Canada.
As the court held:
Local projects will generally fall within the provincial responsibility...federal participation will be required if...the project impinges on an area of federal jurisdiction.
The federal law specifies three triggers for federal assessment. One of those is federal finance. The second is any areas of federal responsibility. Both are eviscerated by this bill.
Is the rationale to ensure more coordinated federal and provincial cooperation in environmental assessment? This was recognized and responded to years back. Measures taken included the harmonization accord; federal-provincial bilateral agreements; coordination in the field; and joint panels. By these provisions, the government has slung an axe to its duties where only a scalpel slice may have been necessary.
Of equal concern is the decision to grant the Minister of the Environment the complete discretion to decide to narrow the scope of any federal assessment. Again, the sense is that this change was simply to limit future judicial scrutiny of the government's decisions.
Separate and apart from that concern is the potential for conflict of interest. Surely the decision on the scope or extent of a federal assessment should be removed from any potential political considerations. For example, any assessment of a pipeline or export power line that the government has endorsed surely should not be made based on the decision of a minister who may well have endorsed those projects. Again, that is the case of the Mackenzie pipeline.
Contrary to what the minister has suggested, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, in his 2009 audit, did not in fact recommend that this role be assigned to the minister. The commissioner merely recommended that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency propose options to the minister, and the agency in reply said that it looked forward to putting forward options to the parliamentary committee in the very hearings that will commence in a few weeks.
A bigger question is whether this law change represents an underhanded attempt at a constitutional amendment. This is a long-standing request by the Alberta government and perhaps other governments to get the federal government out of the environment business on their turf. This is certainly the case on fisheries, a unilateral area of federal jurisdiction. What of the duty to assess impacts to first nation peoples, their lands and waters? What of the federal power over transboundary impacts? Are these, too, being ceded to the provinces? Is this a case of illegal sub-delegation?
In considering this bill, members must consider the duties under federal law to regulate, manage, prevent or mitigate environmental impacts. The very purpose of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is to implement the government's duty under the precautionary principle to identify and prevent unnecessary environmental impacts. Where the effort is not made to assess these potential impacts, how can the government credibly claim to be exercising those powers effectively?
Finally, to the matter of the transfer of environmental impact assessment duties to the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Indeed, this is already allowed under law. What is of grave concern is the broad brush policy decision to completely transfer the environmental assessment function for the majority of these reviews to these agencies out of the very agency set up at arm's length to review environmental impacts.
Contrary to what the minister has asserted, impacted communities and families have not been satisfied with the way those agencies have delivered environmental reviews. A non-government report on the New Brunswick facility did not give it the glowing review the minister professes. In the case of the National Energy Board review of the first export power line out of Alberta, dissatisfaction in the assessment of impacts resulted in court action. Central to the case was the failed consideration of impacts on farmers by the Energy Board.
In summary, I am absolutely opposed to the passage of Bill C-9, particularly part 20.