TORONTO—Why is the oil and gas industry having a meltdown over Bill C-69, the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act? Because unlike the tear-down of environmental protections in 2012, the industry didn’t get to write the laws this time.
The past couple of months have seen an onslaught of hyperbolic fear-mongering and misinformation from the oil and gas industry and some politicians over Bill C-69, a balanced set of reforms to Canada’s review process for major energy and industrial projects.
“[Bill C-69] is the poison pill to ensure that future hydrocarbon development is not happening in this country,” fumes a former TransCanada executive. “If this (Bill C-69) ridiculousness is allowed to continue, all Canadians will pay a heavy economic price for many years to come,” says Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. “If (Bill C-69) passes, Canada will have a sign in the window saying ‘Closed for business.’ We might as well turn out the lights, because investment will avoid Canada, period,” threatens Senator Douglas Black, “Big Oil’s Man in the Senate.”
According to the oil and gas industry, modest legislative reforms to the review process for energy and industrial projects will destroy Canada’s economy as we know it. But that’s entirely predictable, considering that they essentially wrote those laws just six years ago.
In 2012, the previous federal government rammed through changes to a number of environmental laws, including the National Energy Board Act, Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and Navigable Waters Protection Act. The changes gutted environmental protections, manipulated the project review process in favour of industry, and limited the rights of Canadians to participate in project reviews.
Leaked documents later revealed that the 2012 deregulatory changes came directly from the oil and gas industry, in some cases word for word.
The industry’s legislative coup backfired. Canadians soon realized that their legitimate concerns about mega-projects, such as protecting drinking water, respecting Indigenous rights, or tackling climate change, would be ignored. This lack of responsiveness to the public undermined trust in the review process and led to controversy, delays, and legal challenges that hamper projects to this day.
The current federal government came to power in 2015 with a strong mandate to reform environmental laws and restore confidence in the regulators and review processes for major projects.
The outcome is Bill C-69, a significant improvement over the industry-approved 2012 laws that comes after two years of consultation with environmental assessment experts, industry, civil society groups, Indigenous peoples and Canadians from coast to coast. The legislation isn’t perfect—it’s been attacked as too weak by some environmentalists. But it’s a laudable attempt to balance economic development and environmental protection.
Bill C-69 will shorten the timelines for project reviews to provide investors with certainty that good projects get built efficiently. It will centralize all reviews under one expert agency, removing conflicts of interest that saw industry-captured regulators like the National Energy Board (NEB) approving projects that they are responsible for regulating. Bill C-69 will allow all Canadians to participate in reviews, preventing future debacles such as when the NEB denied the requests of hundreds of residents to intervene in the Trans Mountain pipeline review. It’s a step forward in recognizing Indigenous rights, and will require consideration of factors like human health, potential economic spinoffs, and the impacts of projects on climate change.
In short, Bill C-69 will end the worst deficiencies of the 2012 laws that were written by the oil and gas industry.
It should go a long way to restoring credibility to the review process. That’s why it’s supported by both environmental groups and the mining industry—which represents 60 per cent of all federal reviews. The bill passed the House of Commons in June and is now before the Senate, where it should be passed without delay.
Enough with the hysteria being drummed up by the oil and gas industry over Bill C-69. They’re going to have to learn to play by the rules, just like everyone else.
Patrick DeRochie is the climate and energy program manager at the Environmental Defence.
The Hill Times
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