Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-69. I want to take a moment to talk specifically about some of the deficiencies of the bill. Then I would like to talk a bit more about a general pattern of behaviour that the bill fits into, which is problematic in and of itself.
With respect to the bill, Canadians were upset with the previous government and its approach to environmental assessment, if we can call it that. The previous government really gutted the existing environmental assessment process. The key feature of that gutting in my opinion and the opinion of many Canadians across the country was that the Harper government essentially made the final approval of large natural resource projects a political decision at the cabinet table. It became a decision that was not inherently tied to evidence, to science, to predictable impacts with respect to the effect of these projects on the climate. It was not tied to the rights of indigenous peoples to have a say over what happens on their own land. It was simply a political decision to be taken by cabinet. Therefore, one would think that a party that ran against the Harper Conservatives, in part because the latter had gutted environmental assessments and the Liberals committed to Canadians in the election that they would fix that, would have to address the issue of that approval becoming essentially just a prerogative of the government to make according to its own reasons.
The problem with Bill C-69 is that after waiting well over two years for the government to present its fix to the Harper approach to approving these projects, the bill does not in fact do that. It maintains the absolute prerogative of the government to plow ahead, irrespective of the facts, the science on a particular project, or the views of many first nations that may be affected by a particular project. To me, that is a clear and obvious deficiency in the legislation. It does not meet the commitment the Liberals made in the last election to Canadians who are really concerned about this issue. One of the clearest and most obvious things those Canadians wanted was to try to depoliticize the approval process for many of these projects and to have decisions based on science and evidence. It was not to allow the government a choice as to whether or not to go along with the science and the evidence, but to bake it into the process so that the government would not have a choice other than make decisions based on that evidence, or to have an independent body make that decision based on that evidence and science. That is a clear deficiency with the bill, and one that is very disappointing.
With regard to the rights of indigenous people being respected in the approval of these kinds of projects, my colleague, the member for Edmonton Strathcona, presented a number of amendments that would not have put that commitment in the preamble alone, which is what the government ultimately decided to do. The government's decision to put that commitment in the preamble gives us a measure of how strong its commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples really is, because the preamble is non-binding. That, of course, is the kind of commitment that Liberals seem to prefer, the non-binding ones. That was evidenced in their rejection of a number of amendments that would have given UNDRIP real force and effect in the environmental review process. Putting that commitment in the preamble does not give UNDRIP real effect. They are nice words, but they do not get the job done when we have a government that is not interested in respecting the rights of indigenous people. What indigenous people needed was something with the force of law that they could take to court when the government trampled on their rights. The Liberals opted not to do that, and it really does not do it a service to say that it was a missed opportunity.
It is wrong for them not to have done that. It is wrong in principle, but it is also wrong in light of the commitment they just made in voting in support of Bill C-262 last week, which is essentially all about trying to implement UNDRIP within Canadian law. It is wrong, according to the claims of the Prime Minister, who often says that the nation-to-nation relationship is one of the most important relationships.
In light of all those things, it was clearly wrong for the government to do that.
It is part of a theme on a number of files within the government, where the attitude is that we should just trust the government. The government admits there is a lot of discretion, but it says discretion allows it to do the right thing, and it wants to do the right thing. It does not think it has to put the right thing in law or require itself to do the right thing, because it really wants to do it, so we should just take its word for it. That is what is happening with Bill C-69. That is what it means to maintain ministerial prerogative to decide on a project regardless of the evidence.
We heard the minister say something to that effect in the debate on time allocation earlier, when she said that the government cares about science and evidence and therefore it does not need to put a requirement in the law to make decisions based on science and evidence. She said that if we wait and look at the decisions the government makes, we will see, in hindsight, that they were based on science and evidence.
I do not think that this is what Canadians were asking for when they elected a government that said it was going to create a new process based on science and evidence. It is a bad way of making law. It means that a future government that comes in will not be required to do that, just as the current government is not.
Frankly, I do not think the Liberals are really committed, in many cases, to evidence-based decision-making. They would not have bought a 65-year-old leaky pipeline for far more than it is worth if they were actually serious about making information-based decisions. We could go down that road, but even if we do not, it is very clear that if one's commitment is to build a good process, this process should not rely on the goodwill of the government of the day. It should be a process that requires the government of the day to do the right thing, notwithstanding who is in power. This bill obviously fails that test.
We saw something similar with Bill C-49 with respect to voice and video recording devices in locomotives. The government said that we need not worry because it has no interest in invading the privacy rights of workers, and that it would look after it, but without putting it into law; it would just put it in regulations. The government asked us, when voting on the legislation, to trust that it would do the right thing later in regulation.
Never mind the fact that even if the current government does the right thing, and we have not seen that yet, it is still up to some future government to simply change the regulations by order in council without coming to Parliament, because it is not in the law. I do not think the government has done any great favour to workers in that industry by setting up a law that could be so easily abused.
We have seen a similar thing from the government when it comes to approving funding for all its new budget initiatives for 2018-19. It is asking for approval of over $7 billion up front. Department officials and ministers have been very clear in committee that they do not actually have a plan for the money yet. They do not know what they are going to do with that money yet. They have not designed the program, and it has not been to the Treasury Board. They do not know how many people they are going to hire. They do not know whether they will build a building, rent an office, or use existing space. They do not know if they will be travelling across the country. The government does not know what it is going to be spending the money on, but its answer is clear: We should just trust it that things are going to work out and that everything will be okay.
Canadians are looking to the government for leadership on a number of issues, whether it be fiscal responsibility, or being open and accountable, or the very important issues that Bill C-69 is at least nominally meant to address. I have given some indication that I am not convinced it actually addresses those issues.
Regardless of the issue, when Canadians are looking for leadership, they are looking for legislation that holds the government to account. If the government of the day is sincere in giving its word, it should not mind being held to a higher standard, allowing Canadians to test that in court if they have to. Hopefully it will not come to that and the government will keep its word, which remains to be seen.
Canadians deserve to have the tools to hold the government to its word. They also deserve to have future governments bound by those things. At the very least, if a future government wants to change that, it should have to come to Parliament to make the case to Canada's elected representatives, instead of being able to do it fly-by-night through regulation. That is the problem with Bill C-69.