Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise here today to speak to Bill C-69, one of the most important attempts to modernize our environmental protection laws in Canada.
In large part, I think it was meant to deal with some of the actions of the Conservative government, which gutted a lot of our environmental protection laws in the previous Parliament through changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Fisheries Act, et cetera. We dealt with fisheries in Bill C-68, but Bill C-69 is an answer to try to fix some of the other acts that were radically changed by the previous government.
I have to say, off the top, how disappointed I am that the government not only brought in this bill as an omnibus bill, a huge bill, well over 300 pages long, but it moved time allocation in the first debate after only two hours. It moved time allocation on the bill yesterday as well. This is a bill that really should get fulsome debate. I am disappointed that not only did the government move time allocation, but it took so long to bring in this bill.
The NDP originally asked the Speaker to rule this an omnibus bill so that we could deal with it separately. The government agreed that we could vote on the navigable waters section separately. We also asked that the bill be split up for committee study. The first section, on the impact assessment, is ideally suited for study by the environment committee. The central part, which deals with the National Energy Board and the Canadian energy regulator, belongs with the natural resources committee. The navigation protection section, obviously, should have gone to the transport committee.
That division of labour would have provided for a thorough and efficient study. Instead, the whole bill was thrust onto the environment committee, where, with impossible deadlines, many important witnesses could not testify. I was contacted early on by a consortium of Canadian scientists who had studied this and wanted to present evidence before the committee. This was not a single scientist; these were a lot of the important environment scientists in Canada. They were denied access to the committee simply because, I imagine, there were too many witnesses trying to testify before the committee in those tight timelines.
At committee, the NDP submitted over 100 amendments, none of which were accepted. Tellingly, the government submitted over 100 amendments of its own. This tells me that the legislation was clearly rushed into the House and should have been written with more care.
The Liberals are hashtagging this bill #BetterRules, but the Canadian Environmental Law Association, the legal experts who arguably know more about this subject than most Canadians and most politicians, has said that this legislation in neither better, nor rules.
I will quote from a briefing note prepared by Richard Lindgren of the Canadian Environmental Law Association:
[T]he IAA is not demonstrably “better” than CEAA 2012. To the contrary, the IAA replicates many of the same significant flaws and weaknesses found within the widely discredited CEAA 2012....
[T]he IAA does not establish a concise rules-based regime that provides clarity, consistency, and accountability during the information-gathering and decision-making process established under the Act. Instead, the key stages of the proposed impact assessment process are subject to considerable (if not excessive) discretion enjoyed by various decision-makers under the IAA.
At the most fundamental level, for example, it currently remains unclear which projects will actually be subject to the IAA.... [It] contains no benchmarks or criteria to provide direction on the type, scale, or potential effects of projects that should be designated under the new law.
I would like to spend a little while speaking more to the second part of the bill, the energy regulator section.
This section disbands the National Energy Board and creates a new but rather similar body called the Canadian energy regulator. The section opens with a preamble and a statement of purpose. Surprisingly, in this day and age of a brave new world of energy, neither makes reference to linkages between energy and climate. In fact, there is no mention at all of climate in this entire section.
Much of the public work of the old NEB was about regulating pipelines. One could easily come to the conclusion that this is a case of closing the barn door after the horses have left, since it seems unlikely that the new regulator will ever have to review an application for a major new oil pipeline.
The Minister of Natural Resources has risen countless times in this place declaring that the government has restored confidence in the energy regulation system, and that is why the Kinder Morgan pipeline can be built. Unfortunately, he is deeply misinformed.
A couple of months ago, I met with Dr. Monica Gattinger of the Positive Energy group at the University of Ottawa, who studies this very issue of public confidence in energy issues, and Nik Nanos, whose polling firm had asked Canadians about that confidence. Perhaps not surprisingly, Mr. Nanos found that public confidence in the Canadian energy regulation system was at an all-time low. If we thought it was low during the Harper government, it has continued to decline, and now only 2% of Canadians have strong confidence in the energy regulation system. That lack of confidence is shared by members of the public on both sides of the issue: it is lowest in both Alberta and British Columbia. It results in situations like the Kinder Morgan impasse. I should mention that the last time I heard the minister speak on this subject, he did admit that confidence was suddenly a problem in this area.
The Liberals promised during the last election to put the Kinder Morgan proposal through a new, stronger review system, but instead sent a three-member ministerial panel on a quick tour along the pipeline route, giving communities, first nations, governments, and the concerned public almost no advance warning to prepare their presentations. No record was made of the proceedings.
Despite the serious shortcomings of this process, the panel came up with six questions that it said the government would have to answer before making its decision about Kinder Morgan. I will mention only the first three.
First, can the construction of the Trans Mountain expansion be reconciled with Canada's climate commitments?
Second, how can pipeline projects be properly assessed in the absence of a comprehensive national energy strategy?
Third, how can the review of this pipeline project be squared with the government's commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?
I would suggest that none of these questions was answered, even in part, before the government made its decision to approve the Kinder Morgan expansion, and none of them were answered before the government bought the pipeline, which was actually the old pipeline. This leaves a lot of questions about how the government is to regulate itself in getting that pipeline built.
Amazingly, none of those questions are properly answered in the legislation before us, which comes two years after the Kinder Morgan decision. After the government has accepted Bill C-262, which calls for government legislation to be consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, there is no mention of this in the body of Bill C-69. Only after much pressure did the government agree to put it in the preamble, where it would have no legal effect.
We need to restore the confidence of Canadians in our energy regulatory system and in our environmental impact processes. Without that confidence, it will be increasingly difficult for Canadian companies to develop our natural resources, which are at the heart of our national economy.
The Liberals continue to pretend they are doing good, but they are all talk and no action, or as we say in the west, all hat and no cattle. We need bold action to build a new regulatory system that gives voice to all concerned Canadians.