Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-69, which is very important.
Following the debate on the previous government's reform of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, I was very pleased to see that we are moving forward with this bill, which is the product of extensive consultation over the past two years.
I would like to recognize the hard work that the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development did on this file. The committee heard from more than 50 witnesses and received 150 briefs. Several hundred amendments were proposed, 130 of which were adopted. It is therefore clear that this was a very robust process, and I would like to commend my colleagues for the work they did in committee. I was very impressed by their willingness to consider possible improvements.
I would like to focus a bit on that aspect in particular. I note our chair and vice-chair are sitting opposite having a discussion, likely on topics related to the committee's work. This committee was charged with an important assignment, which was to ensure democracy functioned in the context of reviewing complex legislation.
If we rewind to 2012, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 was incorporated into the previous Conservative government's budget bill. It was an entire replacement of the previous Environmental Assessment Act. It was brought through the omnibus budget bill and there were no hearings specifically on the bill to reform the environmental assessment rules. That was criticized across the country, from indigenous communities to environmental groups. Even municipal actors were literally appalled at the anti-democratic approach taken to amend that law.
Therefore, the pendulum swings back a bit. We knew and committed in the previous campaign to reforming that legislation. Thankfully, pursuant to many months of consultation, a better starting point, which was Bill C-69, was achieved. However, when it went to committee, to the committee's great credit, all sorts of analysis was brought to bear from members opposite , from the New Democratic Party, the Green Party, and the Conservative Party. Every party that participated, with the possible exception of the Bloc, independent Bloc, and the CCF, brought forward an amendment that was voted upon and approved, which is a remarkable achievement.
It is also important to note that the government, in particular the Minister of Environment, the Minister of Transport, and the Minister of Natural Resources have commented positively on the amendments brought forward by the committee, on which we will subsequently be voting.
One hundred and fifty amendments were made. The government is responding positively to the fact that these changes are being brought in to ensure openness and transparency, improve public participation, better engage indigenous communities, and to provide greater predictability and certainty for our businesses and those who wish to bring good projects forward. The fact that agreement could be reached on 150 amendments is a tremendous statement and says a lot about the state of democracy right now. That is a really important thing.
I would like to first look at some of the amendments, particularly those related to reconciliation and navigable waters.
With regard to reconciliation, I was very proud to work with my colleagues, including opposition members, to propose amendments that would incorporate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into the bill. That is very important and our government supports enshrining the declaration in law through Bill C-262, which will soon become law.
I would like to congratulate those who worked on Bill C-69, because including the declaration in future impact assessments across the country will be very good for reconciliation and for the development of nation-to-nation relationships.
I would also like to mention how the bill now provides for calling on indigenous peoples' knowledge and expertise when impact assessments are conducted. That will help to improve future project analyses. We need to improve our way of working with indigenous peoples on impact assessments.
Protection of waterways is another very important aspect, and we all know the former government scrapped several provisions protecting navigable waters. Since 2015, the government has been working very hard to improve those protections because waterways and navigation rights are protected not only by statute but also under common law.
The protections for navigable waters are of crucial importance to Canadians, and certainly to the constituents I represent in the Pontiac.
With respect to navigation, very important changes were brought by the committee to ensure water flows would be protected. That is a really crucial piece of the puzzle. Why? Because many Canadian communities, indigenous groups, and paddling groups were concerned that projects might move forward and would not receive the necessary scrutiny, that the law would not necessarily enable protection of the flows of water that would go down various waterways, whether that is the Ottawa River, the Gatineau River, the St. Lawrence Seaway, or other major waterways. That is a key point, and I am very proud our committee brought forward those amendments.
Overall, I would like to conclude by suggesting that beyond the hyperbole, beyond all of the easy, partisan criticism that has been lobbed from the other side, at the end of the day, Canadians are looking for a stronger process that builds trust when good projects come forward and ensures the independence of decision-makers in the context of evaluating projects. We need the public to not only know that a good analysis is being done, but that this analysis is being done independently, on the basis of solid, hard evidence, and on the basis of the engagement of Canada's indigenous peoples.
I am really proud of the work our government has done. Bill C-69 is a good starting point. The committee worked very hard to achieve improvements on it. I commend the government for its positive reaction to the changes brought forward by the standing committee.