Posted on November 28, 2012 (updated: October 29, 2015)

Budget bill puts environmental laws on chopping block

VANCOUVER — More than one-third of today’s federal budget bill is devoted to dismantling Canada’s environmental laws, replacing them with weaker provisions that will quickly clear the way for oil and gas development across the country.

In response, Ecojustice is calling for an independent expert panel to conduct a clause-by-clause analysis of the exhaustive changes outlined in the 431-page bill.

“This budget bill contains some of the most drastic changes we’ve ever seen to laws that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the communities we live in,” said Devon Page, executive director at Ecojustice.

“The government itself acknowledges these are major changes to our country’s laws, and that they plan to implement them quickly. But in a well-functioning democracy, amendments of this magnitude and that impact all Canadians need serious discussion and debate. Sadly, that’s not what we’re seeing proposed today.”

Released Thursday, the 2012 budget implementation bill changes or repeals almost every major federal environmental law, as well as many others that contain environmental provisions. In short:

  • The federal government is reducing the number of reviews that will take place, offloading the responsibility to provinces and territories wherever possible;
  • When a federal environmental assessment does occur, it will be less comprehensive, as the government has imposed strict rules around how long reviews can take and who will be allowed to participate; and
  • In order to speed up energy project approvals, the federal cabinet will have “ministerial discretion” to approve projects wherever it sees fit — regardless of the outcome of a review — by stripping independent expert bodies like the National Energy Board of their decision-making powers.

“Today’s bill will leave the final decision to approve or reject pipelines and other major energy projects in the hands of Cabinet, turning a process that was rooted in science and objective analysis into one that serves the politics of the day,” said Page.

The bill will also narrow the application of the Fisheries Act, allowing fisheries protection to be delegated to provinces whose ability to  regulate is limited or unclear. Meanwhile, the bill would also exempt the National Energy Board (and other federal agencies) from requirements to ensure protections are in place for species at risk and their critical habitat when issuing permits.

“The provisions in the federal budget bill lay out a future in which Canada’s environmental laws will be sidelined to pave the way for mines, pipelines and energy development,” said Karen Campbell, Ecojustice lawyer.

“We can’t help but see this budget bill, which should be about Canada’s fiscal affairs, as a rubber stamp for mega-pipeline projects like the Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion.”

In January, as hearings on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline began, the federal government made clear its intention to streamline the regulatory processes for major industrial projects like the controversial pipeline project, which has become a flashpoint in British Columbia.

Those hints were confirmed by the release of the 2012 budget, and subsequent announcement by federal ministers who unveiled details of the government’s plans to weaken Canada’s environmental laws.


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