In 2012, the previous government gutted environmental protections for Canada’s land, air, water and climate in an attempt to rubber-stamp and fast-track risky energy projects like tar sands pipelines. The House of Commons has passed a bill that will fix this – but now the oil and gas industry is trying to kill it in the Senate.
This fall, the Senate is reviewing Bill C-69, much-needed legislation to strengthen Canada’s environmental laws and fix the broken project review process. Despite an organized campaign from the oil and gas industry to spread misinformation about Bill C-69, Canada’s Senators must pass this bill. It improves how the federal government reviews energy and industrial projects that impact the environment, like pipelines, mines and dams.
What’s wrong with Canada’s environmental laws and the project review process?
The federal government is responsible for laws that ensure economic development does not harm the environment—everything from protecting habitat and endangered species, assessing the risks of energy and industrial projects to Canada’s land, air and water, and consulting citizens, businesses, and Indigenous communities on the positive and negative impacts of industry. The purpose of these laws is to provide a predictable system for building projects in an environmentally responsible way while ensuring public concerns are considered and negative impacts are minimized.
The current process wasn’t working for anyone. Project builders complained the review process was too unpredictable while environmental groups, Indigenous communities and local stakeholders worried that about their legitimate concerns weren’t being heard. The broken process led to controversy and political gridlock—a loss of public trust in Canada’s environmental laws and the decisions being made by regulators like the National Energy Board, which reviews pipeline projects. A good example is the ongoing saga over the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline, the review of which was so flawed that the courts had to overturn the project’s approval.
What does Bill C-69 do?
Bill C-69 is a significant improvement over current laws that will help restore public trust in government decision-making. The result of over two years of consultation with industry, environmental groups, Indigenous peoples and Canadians from coast to coast, Bill C-69 isn’t perfect but it is a laudable attempt to balance economic development and environmental protection.
Bill C-69 makes some big improvements over the current laws and processes for reviewing energy and industrial projects, including:
- Shortening the legislated timelines for project reviews to ensure good projects get built on an efficient timeline;
- Having one expert agency review projects while limiting the influence of industry-captured regulators like the National Energy Board;
- Allowing more citizens and civil society groups to participate in project reviews;
- Considering a project’s contribution to Canada’s climate targets;
- Recognizing the rights of Indigenous peoples and enhancing their role in both regulators and project reviews;
- Expanding the scope of project reviews to include sustainability, the project’s impact on social and health outcomes, its impact on Indigenous rights and cultures, and a consideration of lower-impact alternatives to the project; and
- Formalizing industry best practice by introducing an early planning phase of impact assessments to engage the public, communities and Indigenous peoples at the outset and seek consensus.
Bill C-69 will go a long way toward restoring public trust and credibility to the project review process to ensure good projects get built while protecting our land, air, water and climate. That’s why it’s supported by both environmental groups and the mining industry, one of the sectors most impacted by federal environmental laws.
The oil and gas industry is trying to stop Bill C-69
Despite this broad support from unlikely allies, groups with close ties to the oil and gas industry are bombarding Senators with misinformation in an attempt to kill Bill C-69, even though it’s already been passed by the House of Commons.
The federal government has a strong mandate to repair and strengthen Canada’s environmental laws. Bill C-69 is a sincere attempt to do just that. The oil and gas industry is going to have to play by the rules, just like everyone else.
Don’t let Senators be misled by industry lies. The Senate needs to hear that Canadians support this balanced legislation.