Mr. Speaker, I rise today to voice my disappointment with the budget implementation bill.
In this time of economic uncertainty, the government has seen fit to ram through changes to legislation in the budget implementation bill rather than to follow an established democratic process. In our parliamentary democracy, it is customary for government to bring forward changes it wants to make here in the House and then to allow debate for hon. members, the representatives of the people, on their behalf.
The government chose to go another route. It chose to hide substantive policy changes in the implementation of this budget. As members know, this amounts to a kind of democratic blackmail. That is not only undemocratic, it is just plain wrong.
In what has become a disturbing pattern, the government has again, this year, incorporated into its budget implementation bill major changes to environmental safeguards.
Last year's budget bill took a slice out of the federal duty to assess the environmental impact of projects that could have potential impacts on the navigable waters of Canada. It moved to exempt all federal stimulus-funded projects from any assessment previously triggered by waterways impacts and those for which the federal contribution was under $10 million. The beautiful province of British Columbia, my province, has hundreds of rivers, and this change puts them in serious danger.
These are just the sorts of changes Canadians want to see their representatives in this House discuss. That debate is completely eliminated when the government pushes through legislation in the background of a budget implementation bill.
This year's budget bill, however, swings an axe at a crucial environmental law, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The axe cuts deeply. What is most disturbing about the process by which this law is being eviscerated is that Parliament has moved that a review of the law be undertaken this year and that recommendations for reform be made. The review is already slated to come before the parliamentary committee on environment and sustainable development within weeks.
The government has chosen to short-circuit this process. Instead of hearing and considering the views of interested stakeholders and other concerned parties, it has chosen to fast-track the changes through this budget bill.
Bill C-9 transfers reviews of major energy projects from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. The effect is the diminishment of public representation. Neither the NEB nor the CNSC are equipped to conduct community consultations, nor do either have previous experience with these sorts of projects.
It also removes from the public clear access to intervenor funds that would allow groups and individuals to make themselves heard, and it lessens the requirements to consider environmental factors when proceeding with a project.
Second, and this is most troubling, the Minister of the Environment will be empowered to narrow the scope of any environmental assessment, which sets a dangerous precedent. This means that at the discretion of the minister, a project can be approved based on an assessment of only part of its overall environmental impact.
In January of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada found that the government failed to follow federal laws by scoping the Red Chris mine in northern B.C. to exclude the mine and the mill in order to avoid a comprehensive assessment and public input. What Bill C-9 therefore means to do is remove from the public any recourse for requiring consultation.
In addition, Bill C-9 removes one of the key triggers for a federal assessment, and that is federal spending. The limit for federal spending that would require an assessment is all but completely removed. Almost all federal stimulus funding projects would be exempted.
The bill will exempt from environmental assessment all projects falling under the building Canada fund, the green infrastructure fund, the recreation infrastructure fund, the border infrastructure fund, the municipal rural infrastructure fund, and many more. Such projects range from transmission lines running thousands of kilometres to road extensions, new bridges, and interchanges.
The New Democrat motion to enable the finance committee to split the bill provides the opportunity to defer study and the vote on the environmental reform measures until the environment committee review has been completed, which is a matter of only a few short months. Regrettably, the government manoeuvred to prevent this constructive solution from proceeding. Addressing long-term environmental or health impacts should not be shunted aside for short-term political gain from fast-tracked project approvals.
Ultimately, it is Canadians who will pay the cost. With these changes, one has to wonder what the future holds for the Enbridge pipeline project. Having just presented the proposal last week, will it be subject to the scrutiny and public consultation that is so needed, or will the minister narrow the scope and allow 225 oil tankers to sail along our coast every year? The people of northern British Columbia want to be consulted, and Bill C-9 effectively silences them.
I know that my time runs short, so let me be brief by saying that the budget still has many shortcomings. It has yet to fund a national transit strategy. In my riding, the Evergreen Line is desperately in need of funds so that it can be completed. In fact, it has not even been built. This is a project that was promised over two decades ago, and we are still waiting for the funds to complete it.
The budget invests over $1 billion in a three-day event instead of putting much-needed police officers on the streets in every Canadian community. There is no money for a real, affordable housing strategy in this country. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans remains underfunded, under-resourced, and understaffed.
I hope that all hon. members will support the motion brought forward by my hon. colleague from Edmonton—Strathcona and will vote these measures out of Bill C-9.