Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to ask for the deletion of part 19 and part 20 of Bill C-9. Those make up our Motions Nos. 16 to 18 and 19 to 38.
I bring forward this motion for the deletion of those parts of the bill for twofold reasons, which I have spoken to previously in the House. The twofold reasons are both for process of the making of law in this nation and on the substantive measures.
We have heard from Canadians from community to community and ocean to ocean opposing this measure. We have heard it from farm communities, environmental organizations and a long list of first nations organizations. They are absolutely appalled that for the second time the government has chosen, through a budget bill, to make substantive changes to the long-treasured Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
There was absolutely no consultation in advance, despite the fact that for almost three decades the government has had in place a regulatory advisory committee on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. This group has not even been convened for a year and a half, so the government chose to completely ignore a long-established committee, actually established by the Conservatives, and chose to do it through a budget bill to make it a non-confidence vote. It then referred the matter to the wrong committee, not that many members of the finance committee are not fully capable of reviewing any statute. However, as the House is well advised, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act already requires by law that it be reviewed at a set date, and that matter is already scheduled before the parliamentary committee on environment and sustainable development.
The government made a decision to completely short-circuit public consultation, violate its own legal provisions and show complete disrespect for the committee that had already made itself apprised of the matter and was trying to move forward as expeditiously as possible. Why is that? It is because this act has been before the parliamentary committee on environment and sustainable development before. Therefore, to ensure a consistent review, it made sense, since the committee looked at the act at its inception, to give it the opportunity to continuously do the review and to accord the opportunity to any stakeholder from industry, the public or the first nations to come forward and give their opinions on the proposed amendments.
First and foremost, Canadians have come out strongly in the same way they did in last year's budget bill, where the government emasculated the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Last time, it took a knife to federal environmental law. This time, it took an axe. It swung an axe on an act that all Canadians, from industry, provincial governments, territorial governments, first nations governments, environmental organizations, community-based organizations, farm organizations and fishery organizations, have had a say for many years in developing what they consider to be a strong act, which governments after governments have lauded around the world.
In one fell swoop, the government decided to go against due process, against the democratic process, which the government is bound by and committed to under the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, to provide advance notice and an opportunity to comment by any person in North America to any new environmental law policy. It completely ignored a document it is bound by.
The government talks all the time about how it is working in common with North America and how we should look at things in North America and yet it has completely violated the very agreement it has signed and decided just to throw it into a budget bill.
I have had submissions from a number of people. The finance committee heard submissions from a number of people across the country castigating the government for doing this and asking that the finance committee move these measures over to the environment committee.
As far as substance, what is done in this bill is absolutely reprehensible. Contrary to what the minister has firmly asserted in the House, equal rights are not provided to the public who may have concerns and want to intervene in the review of major projects.
In part 19, the National Energy Board and the Nuclear Safety and Control Act are given the discretion to think about whether they might provide participant funding if somebody asks. That completely goes against what is provided for in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act where, if they are going ahead with a comprehensive review, they must provide intervenor funding. That is not equal treatment under the law. It is giving lesser rights to those who are dealing with major nuclear facilities and major oil and gas activity.
On the substantive measures, the government has taken the Supreme Court of Canada ruling and completely undermined it by giving the Minister of the Environment total discretion to decide to narrow the scope of the review of a project. This goes against the understanding around the world of why we do environmental assessments and, if we are doing a comprehensive review, why we need to look at the whole scope of a project. It unilaterally gives complete discretion to the minister to decide to narrow the scope, overturning the Supreme Court of Canada decision.
What this part of Bill C-9 would also do is exempt a vast number of projects that would be funded by Infrastructure Canada before the government even undertakes the process of deciding whether there will be any significant environmental impacts. It gives a little option to the minister after the fact to say that maybe the minister will unexempt the exemption if he or she find there are significant environmental impacts, but how would the minister to do that if he or she has already exempted them all.
Huge concerns have been raised about this project. I want to share with the House some of the testimony by the people who have come before the finance committee to object to this matter being reviewed by the finance committee and being put through in the budget bill.
Mrs. Arlene Kwasniak, who is a respected environmental law scholar at the University of Calgary law school, said:
I would like to suggest that there has been a recent demise in consultations having to do with the CEAA and an avoidance of the legislative requirement for consultations for substantive changes.
...this provision opens the door for uneven and unfair application of the CEAA. There are no statutory conditions governing the exercise of the minister's discretion....
In the Speech from the Throne and the budget bill this year, the government said that the very reason it was going to streamline environmental regulation and environmental assessments was to provide legal certainty and we have these legal scholars saying that the last thing the bill would do is provide legal certainty.
Mr. Richard Lindgren, counsel for the Canadian Environmental Law Association, said:
Based on our experience and our public interest perspective, we have very serious and fundamental concerns about the Bill C-9 proposals to amend CEAA. [...] CELA objects to the process that's being used to enact these amendments. In our opinion, proposed changes to CEAA should not be buried in a budget bill. Instead, any proposed amendments to the act should be brought forward and proceeded with as stand-alone legislation that's subject to full parliamentary debate and meaningful public consultation, neither of which has occurred in this case to this point.
The second objection was the timing of the proposed amendments. He goes on to describe it and said:
As the committee is aware, these amendments have been introduced just as the mandatory seven-year review of CEAA is about to commence.
I could also quote from the letter from Mr. Ron Plain, the Aamjiwnaang First Nation and about 20 other first nations from across the country. They are requesting that the government withdraw part 20 of Bill C-9 which deals with CEAA until they have engaged in a meaningful consultation process to address first nations interests in maintaining a rigorous environmental assessment process federally that will ensure proper consultation and accommodation of their constitutionally protected interests.
They wish to stress that the lack of consultation on Bill C-9 to date is inconsistent with article 19 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which requires:
States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples...to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.
They state that many industrial and infrastructure projects impact aboriginal interests and, given that the federal government has a fiduciary relationship with first nations people, it is questionable that the government would seek power to scope industrial projects narrowly and to entirely exempt infrastructure projects without first consulting aboriginal peoples. The honour of the Crown's duty needs to be fulfilled through a meaningful consultation process on this critical portion of Bill C-9 before it is enacted.
All of those people have said that they want to have these provisions removed from the budget bill.
Even the Senate committee, which reviewed this bill, recommended that the government not do this kind of process a second time, that budget bills should deal with financial matters and that they should not be the mechanism for dealing with substantive major amendments to federal laws. That was also endorsed by a majority recommendation of the parliamentary finance committee on reviewing the last bill.
It is critical that the House support my motion to separate out and delete parts 19 and 20 so we can have a proper review in consultation with all affected groups.