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Feds Set Canada Back 50 Years On Environment Regulations: Critics

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Feds set Canada back 50 years on environment regulations: critics

But government says ‘responsible resource development is a cornerstone’ of the budget.


Photograph by Jake Wright, The Hill Times


Published: Monday, 04/30/2012 12:00 am EDT

The government is setting Canada back at least 50 years in its quest to dismantle environmental regulations, say opposition MPs.

“[Prime Minister Stephen Harper is] destroying decades worth of environmental law and policy that’s been developed sensibly,” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.) told The Hill Times last week.

“Most of the legislation he’s destroying was put forward and passed by Brian Mulroney so it’s not a left, right or centre issue. It’s a question of do you understand the need to have sensible public policy developed while having respect for environmental protection. Clearly, Stephen Harper regards the environment as in his way.”

A Forum Research poll for The Hill Times last week found that 59 per cent of Canadians believe the government has put oil and gas companies’ interests above those of Canadians. Only 15 per cent agreed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) was putting the interests of Canadians over those of oil and gas companies. In addition, the poll found that 63 per cent of Canadians do not trust the government to do what’s best for Canada with respect to the environment. Twenty-nine per cent of Canadians do trust the government on this front, the majority of which are in Alberta. The majority of Quebecers (76 per cent) do not trust the government when it comes to the environment. Further, the poll, conducted with 1,744 people between April 24 and 25, found that 54 per cent of Canadians oppose the elimination of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. When it comes to handing more authority to provinces to conduct environmental assessments, respondents were evenly split, with 41 per cent supporting and 40 per cent opposing. The survey is accurate 2.4 per cent 19 times out of 20.

“There’s a lot of bad news for the government in this poll, as they come off of one of their worst months since the election. It’s clear Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s personal image has suffered, and he’ll need to rebuild the trust he’s lost before the next election,” said Forum Research President Lorne Bozinoff.

The government introduced its Budget Implementation Bill last Thursday, Bill C-38. It is 452 pages and contains a large section that will significantly change the environmental regulatory regime. Among several issues to implement measures found in the budget and not mentioned in the budget, the omnibus Bill C-38 repeals Bill C-288, the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, a private member’s bill passed in 2007 to keep the government accountable on implementing measures to meet the Kyoto Protocol emissions reduction levels.

Bill C-38 also repeals the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and enacts a new one, which allows the environment minister to determine if environmental assessments are necessary for certain resource development projects. The bill also aims to reduce duplicate environmental assessments and allows the federal government to defer to provincial assessments if one is available. In addition, it amends the National Energy Board Act to allow Cabinet to make decisions on potential new “major pipelines” and limit regulatory reviews to two years. The bill gives the National Energy Board authority over “navigation in respect of pipelines and power lines that cross navigable waters.”

The Budget Implementation Bill also changes the Fisheries Act to focus on protecting only fish that “support commercial, recreational or aboriginal fisheries.”

Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan (Etobicoke North, Ont.), her party’s environment critic, said these changes are “devastating,” but are part of the Conservative government’s long-term strategy to fast track development at environmental cost.

“This has been going on since last summer. Last summer they wanted to cut 700 scientists from Environment Canada. Then we had cuts of 43 per cent to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Then they wanted to reduce ozone monitoring. We have two major global air issues, one is climate change, one is ozone. After they discover in the spring the largest two million square kilometer ozone hole over the arctic, this is not the time to cut ozone monitoring. Then our country walks way from Kyoto,” she told The Hill Times last week. “Then we heard there’s going to be 200 cuts to Environment Canada scientists. The National Roundtable is gone, so we’re getting rid of out scientists, we’re getting rid of our critics through changes to Revenue. We’re gutting environmental legislation that’s there to protect the health and safety of Canadians. This government is taking us back 50 years. If you get rid of scientists, if you get rid of the critics, if you gut the legislation, what’s to stand in the way of environmental disaster?”

NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C.) said last week that the government is burying the amendments in the Budget Implementation Bill because “they’re trouble or embarrassed or wrong.” He said the changes should be in its own legislation instead of glossed over through a budget debate.

“They’re prepared to throw everything under the bus. It’s very frustrating because it’s frankly, undemocratic. It’s attempting to silence the voices of anyone who happens to disagree with the government’s rigid ideology,” he said. “It’s becoming increasingly typical. If it could stand on its own merits and it was something the government was proud of, they would make it its own legislation.”

Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski (Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre, Sask.) said, however, that opposition is just up to its regular “spin fantasies” on the government’s environmental agenda.

“The opposition is always going to try to continue to spin fantasies about what we’re trying to do on the environment. The reality is that the budget implementation act contains many pieces of legislation with respect to various departments. That’s normal and we’ll debate them as we move forward,” he said, noting he hopes the opposition will allow debate on Bill C-38 to move forward smoothly.

Carly Wolff, press secretary to Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver (Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont.), wrote in an email to reporters last week that the amendments were not buried as “responsible resource development is a cornerstone” of the budget. “It is routine for such measures to be included in the budget legislation,” she said, noting the government will create a subcommittee to specifically study the “responsible resource development” aspects of the bill.

“Responsible resource development will streamline the review process for major economic projects by providing predictable timelines for project approvals. It will prevent long delays that kill potential jobs and stall economic growth by putting valuable investment at risk,” Ms. Wolff said. “Most importantly, responsible resource development will create good, skilled, well-paying jobs in cities and communities across Canada, while maintaining the highest possible standards for protecting the environment.”

Andrew Coyne: Bill C-38 shows us how far Parliament has fallen

Andrew Coyne Apr 30, 2012 – 7:21 PM ET | Last Updated: Apr 30, 2012 8:32 PM ET


Postmedia News files

Bill C-38 is not remotely a budget bill, despite its name. It is what is known as an omnibus bill. If you want to know how far Parliament has fallen, how little real oversight it now exercises over government, this should give you a clue.

You know, this is the sort of thing people used to make quite a bit of a fuss over.

Bill C-38, introduced in the House last week, calls itself, innocuously, “An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures.” The bill does implement certain budget provisions, it is true: for example, the controversial changes to Old Age Security. But “and other measures” rather understates matters — to understate the matter.

The bill runs to more than 420 pages. It amends some 60 different acts, repeals half a dozen, and adds three more, including a completely rewritten Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. It ranges far beyond the traditional budget concerns of taxing and spending, making changes in policy across a number of fields from immigration (among other changes, it erases at a stroke the entire backlog of applications under the skilled worker program), to telecommunications (opening the door, slightly, to foreign ownership), to land codes on native reservations.

The environmental chapters are the most extraordinary. Along with the new Act, they give cabinet broader power to override decisions of the National Energy Board, shorten the list of protected species, and abolish the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act — among “other measures.” For much of this the first public notice was its inclusion in the bill.

So this is not remotely a budget bill, despite its name. It is what is known as an omnibus bill. If you want to know how far Parliament has fallen, how little real oversight it now exercises over government, this should give you a clue.

Omnibus bills are not unknown: indeed, every budget is a kind of omnibus bill, bundling a range of different measures under the general rubric of “supply,” the ancient prerogative of Parliament to approve or withhold funds to the Crown to carry out its program of government. The omnibus crime bill, likewise, collected a number of different pieces of the Conservatives’ law and order agenda under one heading.

But lately the practice has been to throw together all manner of bills involving wholly different responsibilities of government in one all-purpose “budget implementation” bill, and force MPs to vote up or down on the lot. While the 2012 budget implementation bill is hardly the first in this tradition, the scale and scope is on a level not previously seen, or tolerated.

Not only does this make a mockery of the confidence convention, shielding bills that would otherwise be defeatable within a money bill, which is not: It makes it impossible to know what Parliament really intended by any of it. We’ve no idea whether MPs supported or opposed any particular bill in the bunch, only that they voted for the legislation that contained them. There is no common thread that runs between them, no overarching principle; they represent not a single act of policy, but a sort of compulsory buffet.

To be sure, a government with a majority would likely have little difficulty passing them separately, so obediently do MPs now submit to the party whip. But there is something quite alarming about Parliament being obliged to rubber-stamp the government’s whole legislative agenda at one go.

Moreover, it utterly eviscerates the committee process, until now regarded as one of the last useful roles left to MPs. How can one committee, in this case Finance, properly examine all of these diverse measures, with all of the many areas of expertise they require, especially in the time allotted to them?

My point is not that any of the bill’s provisions are good or bad in themselves (that’s the kind of thing committee hearings and debate often help to clarify). Nor is there anything unlawful in any of this, so far as I’m aware. According to House of Commons Procedure and Practice, “it appears to be entirely proper, in procedural terms” for a bill to amend more than one act; Speakers have generally refused appeals to divide them.

But there’s a limit. What is lawful may nevertheless be illegitimate, especially where fundamental issues of Parliamentary government are in play. For, in combination with so many recent abuses, from prorogation to the F-35s, that is what is at stake here.

That Parliament has lost control of the public purse is now a commonplace. Governments routinely spend billions more than they were budgeted. Estimates are voted through without serious scrutiny. Funds that were approved for the construction of, say, border infrastructure end up being spent on, say, gazebos hundreds of miles away.

But the increasing use of these omnibills extends Parliament’s powerlessness in all directions: it has become, if you will, omnimpotent — a ceremonial body, little more. What is worse, it cannot even seem to rouse itself to its own defence.

Once upon a time such insults could be relied upon to produce unruly scenes in the House, obstruction of government business and whatnot. The packaging of several pieces of legislation into one omnibus energy bill in 1982 provoked the opposition to refuse to enter the House to vote. The division bells rang for nearly three weeks until the government agreed to split the bill. The insertion of a single change to environmental legislation in the 2005 budget bill, a note from the Green Party reminds us, so enraged the then leader of the Opposition, Stephen Harper, that he threatened to bring down the government.

But today’s Parliament is so accustomed to these indignities that it barely registers. It has lost not only the power to resist, it seems, but the will.


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Hold on, let me get my glasses. ;)

There's so much fail in the Canadian Harper government. There's this, the F-35's, possibly taking away women's rights via the abortion debate, the robocall scandal, and shutting down parliament. What's next on the list, Harper?

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Hold on, let me get my glasses. ;)

There's so much fail in the Canadian Harper government. There's this, the F-35's, possibly taking away women's rights via the abortion debate, the robocall scandal, and shutting down parliament. What's next on the list, Harper?

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Hold on, let me get my glasses. ;)

There's so much fail in the Canadian Harper government. There's this, the F-35's, possibly taking away women's rights via the abortion debate, the robocall scandal, and shutting down parliament. What's next on the list, Harper?

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