Mr. Speaker, I rise today on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people, and thank them for their generosity. Meegwetch.
I also want to thank the hon. member for Davenport for splitting time with me. The circumstances are not those that led me to feel particularly relieved or happy, but I am grateful for the civility of giving me 10 minutes. Otherwise, I would not be able to speak at all, because of the egregious use of time allocation on an omnibus bill. I never expected to see omnibus bills with time allocation after the change in government.
This is three bills put together: the National Energy Board Act changed, the Navigation Protection Act changed, and the Environmental Assessment Act overhauled. The fourth piece that had been running along in tandem, through the great judgment of the Minister of Fisheries, is Bill C-68. It stands on its own, and it is an excellent piece of legislation.
However, with the time available to me, I am going to be able to speak only to the impact assessment piece of this omnibus bill, which I am afraid falls below any standard of acceptability and should trouble deeply any Liberal who stood in this place and voted against Bill C-38 in the spring of 2012. We stood together with every single Liberal MP and every single New Democrat against the destruction of decades of environmental law. How that process has been captured by the same mentality, values, and principles that led to Harper destroying these acts, so we now have a repackaged version of those same principles of eroding environmental assessment, is something that the Liberal caucus should try to figure out. I hope it will lead to changes in committee.
With the time available to me, I will quickly review my background in environmental law. I happen to be an environmental lawyer. It is an even weirder fluke that when I was 22 years old and a waitress and cook, I participated in the very first environmental assessment panel hearing in Canadian history, in 1976. It was in Cape Breton. It was about the Wreck Cove hydroelectric plant. I have participated in dozens since.
Ten years after that, I was in the office of the Minister of the Environment. I was actually a senior policy adviser, the person who took the quest from Environment Canada from a wonderful senior civil servant named Ray Robinson, who headed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency in those days, and we took to the Privy Council Office the request to legislate. Up until then, we had been operating under a guidelines order that required environmental reviews, but it was a bit uncertain in its full rubric. Some people thought it was a guideline and therefore was not binding. We got permission to legislate. Subsequently, I resigned from my job with the Minister of the Environment when the minister violated the environmental assessment review process guidelines in approving dams without permits.
This is just to say that I did not only recently come upon my commitment to proper and thorough environmental assessment in Canada. It is non-partisan and goes back decades.
Now, what happened under Bill C-38 was the repeal of our environmental assessment process and its replacement with a rather bogus process. We can compare Bill C-69 to the bogus process in Bill C-38 in 2012, or we can compare it to what is needed. It is all well and good for the federal Liberals to say to us today that they did a lot of consultation. It is true. There were 21 cities with public hearings, and over 1,000 people showed up to a superb expert panel on environmental assessment. The question before us today is why their recommendations were ignored.
I am going to read, one at a time, the recommendations that were ignored. There are many. In previous debate in this place, when the bill was first put forward, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment claimed I was wrong in my assertion, which I think is fact, that the environmental assessment expert panel was ignored. It is really important to understand the point of environmental assessment. I will just go back a bit and say that this is one of the pieces of Harper-think that have survived into Liberal-think.
Environmental assessment has never been about a green light or a red light, yes or no, or whether the project goes ahead or not. It is primarily a tool for good planning. In the entire history from 1976 to 2012, when Harper repealed the act, only two projects were ever given a red light. I will say that again. From 1976 to 2012, with the thousands of environmental reviews that were done, only twice did a federal-provincial environmental review panel say that a project was so damaging that it could not be mitigated and the panel had to say no.
It has primarily been about studying a process thoroughly, studying a project thoroughly, and deciding that we can mitigate the damage if only the proponent would agree to better scrubbers or change the location slightly. In the course of the review process, many projects were improved, the damages mitigated and reduced, and in the end a much better project was accepted. This has never been primarily about how to get to yes or no faster. That is what Harper thought, and apparently that thought process has somehow infested some ongoing decision-making process within government. An environmental assessment is about good planning.
Until 2012, the Environmental Assessment Act said that the purpose was to get in and review a project, “as early as is practicable in the planning stages of the project and before irrevocable decisions are made”
Let me quote what we heard from the expert panel on what an environmental assessment should contain. It did agree that it should be called “impact assessment”. That is one piece they could claim.
Page 5 states that the impact assessment authority “should be established as a quasi-judicial tribunal empowered to undertake a full range of facilitation and dispute-resolution processes.” This has been ignored. Members have heard about the expert panel the government sent around the country, with a thousand people participating and with 800 submissions. Their recommendation was not to have ad hoc panels where people are pulled in, with different projects always having different panels, but to develop expertise through a quasi-judicial tribunal. Ironically, this was also the advice from the red book Liberal platform of 1993.
The second point is to have time limits and cost controls that reflect the specific circumstances of each project, not the current one-size-fits-all approach, which was an innovation under Bill C-38. This is a key point. Projects need to be reviewed whether they are big or small. The effect of Bill C-38, which Harper brought in, is this. The previous era had seen approximately 4,000 projects a year reviewed, most of them with paper-screening exercises that did not take much time. After Bill C-38, the number shrank from 4,000 a year to fewer than 100 a year. The Liberals have gone with perpetuating the fewer than 100 a year. This is how they have done it, by ignoring this advice.
The panel stated that there should be a review when there are federal interests, and that “federal interests include, at a minimum, federal lands, federal funding and federal government as proponent, as well as”, and then there is a list: species at risk, fish, marine plants, migratory birds, indigenous issues, and so on.
This piece of legislation ignores anything except the project list. That was an innovation of Bill C-38. There are no law list reviews requiring that if the navigable waters act or the Fisheries Act requires a permit from the minister there be a review, and no requirement that when federal money is spent there be a review. That is the advice the government got from its expert panel, which it ignored.
The expert panel also said clearly that there should be no role at all for the National Energy Board, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, or the offshore petroleum boards. It pointed out that “the federal system prior to 2012 had decades of experience with delegating final decision-making to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission...and the [NEB]” without those agencies meddling in the environmental assessment.
What is happening under Bill C-69 is like a shell game. We are told it is one independent agency, except that when it is reviewing pipelines the panel must be comprised of people who are sitting members of the NEB, now called the Canadian energy regulator. If they are reviewing offshore petroleum operations in Atlantic Canada, the panel members must come from the offshore petroleum boards, which by legislation are required to expand offshore oil. It is an embedded conflict of interest in the legislation.
The atrocities continue, with respect to indigenous rights. How is it that the Minister of Fisheries can put before us Bill C-68, which has strong language to protect indigenous rights? Bill C-68, in section 2.3, “Rights of Indigenous peoples of Canada”, makes it clear that the act cannot derogate from indigenous rights. Section 2.4 states that it is the duty of the minister when making a decision to “consider any adverse effects” on the rights of indigenous peoples.
This piece of over-discretionary political masquerading of environmental assessment in Bill C-69 merely states that “the impact that the designated project may have on any Indigenous group” is a factor to be considered. As a former litigator, I can tell members that the courts do not regard indigenous rights as a factor to be considered as protecting indigenous rights.
This bill gets an F. At committee, let us please get it to a C+.