That it be an instruction to the Standing Committee on Finance that it have the power to divide Bill C-9, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 4, 2010 and other measures, into two or more pieces of legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to my motion, first tabled before the House April 20, 2010 and today.
Why have I moved this motion? The pattern and practice of the government to institute significant legislative reforms under the cloak of budget bills has been loudly criticized by the Canadian public. This is the second time that the government, during this Parliament, has chosen to make major changes to the environment through a budget bill.
What has caused such broad consternation is the fact that the subject area of at least one part of Bill C-9, part 20, is by law required to be referred to a parliamentary committee for comprehensive review this year; the fact that the parliamentary committee on environment and sustainable development has already agreed to undertake this review. and that this review is scheduled to commence within weeks; and the fact that the same law requires the committee to report back to Parliament on its review and any recommended changes within a year of completing that review.
There is a clear intent expressed by legislators: of who is charged with reviewing changes to the bill; the process to be followed and, in other words, an open participatory process to review any legislative changes; responsibility already taken on by the parliamentary committee; and that the review is likely to be substantive. For these reasons I am recommending that the finance committee, having been charged to study Bill C-9, be empowered to consider dividing the bill. It is my recommendation to the House that it consider empowering the finance committee to split the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Outremont.
The very title of the budget implementation bill makes clear the narrow thrust of Bill C-9. It is entitled “Jobs and Economic Growth Act”.
While a good number of provisions of Bill C-9 arguably fall within the purview of a budget implementation bill and that narrow context, under the rubric of jobs and growth, I submit a number of parts of Bill C-9 clearly do not. Counted among those are: part 18, which is about the reorganization of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited; part 19, amending the National Energy Board Act and the Nuclear Safety and Control Act to allow for participant funding; and in particular, part 20, which brings forth substantial amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
I wish most specifically to speak to parts 19 and 20. These parts provide for significant reforms to the federal environmental assessment law: procedures and critical rights. To provide a context, the legislative purposes of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act include: to ensure projects are considered in a careful and precautionary manner in advance of decisions to ensure they do not cause significant harm or adverse impacts; to ensure coordination among federal authorities; to ensure communication and co-operation with aboriginal people; and to ensure opportunities for timely and meaningful public participation.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act requires that the government minister, the CEA agency and all federal authorities exercise their powers in a manner consistent with protecting the environment and human health, and observing the precautionary principle. No such similar broad duties can be found either in the NEB Act nor the Nuclear Safety and Control Act.
The CEAA does allow the Minister of the Environment, on a project-specific basis, to assign environmental reviews to other bodies, but with conditions that there be identical factors, as considered under CEAA, and equal public participation rights. What the government has proposed in the bill is hardly equivalent and a major step backwards in participatory rights and opportunity.
The amendments under part 20 provide for the transfer of responsibility of the CEA agency to the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for any comprehensive study of projects under their purview, so it is a broad policy assignment of power.
Of concern to me is the fact that the National Energy Board has apparently already posted on its website that these reforms are already in legal effect. The CEAA requires the minister to establish a participant funding program, while Bill C-9 reforms really grant the discretion to the National Energy Board and the Nuclear Safety Commission to consider establishing participant funding.
Of greatest concern, Bill C-9 also exempts a broad category of federally funded projects from environmental assessment, regardless of the significance of their environmental impacts. The minister may reverse the exemption if significant impacts are identified. It hardly provides for the legal certainty that the government promised in its throne speech.
Projects that would be exempted include: the building Canada fund, the green infrastructure fund, the recreational infrastructure fund, the border infrastructure fund, the municipal rural infrastructure fund, and on it goes. Bill C-9 also changes CEAA to grant the minister broad, undefined discretion to narrow the scope of any environmental assessment or, in other words, allow for the introduction of inappropriate, potentially political considerations.
Concerns about this provision have been voiced strongly by a number of sectors including first nations. In particular, first nations are concerned that their constitutionally protected rights for advance notice, consultation and accommodation may have been violated by bringing forward these amendments without first contacting them.
I might add that the government appears to also be failing to adhere to its commitments under the North American agreement on environmental co-operation, where it is obligated to provide advance notice and opportunity to comment to anyone in North American who may be impacted by such reforms. The amendments strike at the very heart of the federal process negotiated among all interests over past decades. The reviews could have gone to the regulatory advisory committee, which the government has not brought together for the last year and half.
In summary, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act review includes a review and reform process. It prescribes who is to undertake that review. The matter has already been taken up by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, one of the two bodies provided in law that may take on such a study. The parliamentary committee has already scheduled public hearings on this matter, which will proceed within weeks.
It appears, therefore, logical and respectful to empower the finance committee to split its review of Bill C-9 and to delay review of specified parts, in particular parts 19 and 20, until such time as the CEAA review, mandated first to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, is completed and the recommended reforms submitted to Parliament.
This would enable a full and open review of the proposed reforms to assessment law, including hearing testimony from interested Canadians, including industry, provincial governments, first nations, the territories and the general public, on the proposed legal reforms. To do otherwise would ensure a slippery slope to the democratic process.
Canada has long stood as an example in the Western world for having among the best environmental impact assessment processes. Many Canadians have gone to court to fight for strong federal environmental assessment laws. Yet, with one broad brush of a budget bill, open to potentially having the government fall to a confidence vote, is not the way to proceed with a sensible, open discussion on these critical amendments.
In closing, I would just add again that I recommend to the House that it consider giving this power to the committee to consider splitting Bill C-9.