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Report on Business Energy industry urges sweeping changes to Ottawa’s resource development bill

Canada’s energy sector is urging a Senate committee to make sweeping amendments to the Liberal government’s impact assessment legislation for resource projects, while the Assembly of First Nations testified Thursday that Bill C-69 is a vast improvement over the existing law in its recognition of Indigenous rights.

Appearing at the Senate energy and environment committee Thursday, Canadian Energy Pipeline Association president Chris Bloomer said the bill in its current form is unworkable and would drive investment away from the Western Canadian oil and gas sector. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers previously tabled its proposed amendments, and they are closely aligned with those of the pipeline association.

“The Canadian energy industry is undergoing a worsening crisis,” Mr. Bloomer told senators who are holding hearings on the legislation.

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“Bill C-69 does not address the pipeline sector’s most fundamental concern – that of the unacceptably high financial risks associated with lengthy, costly project reviews that trigger polarization within the process itself and political decisions at the very end,” he said, before laying out 20 pages of amendments that he said are needed to make the legislation palatable to the pipeline sector and oil industry.

The Liberal government’s legislation would overhaul federal review of major resource and infrastructure projects by setting new timelines and mandating consideration of issues such as climate change and gender-related impacts, while requiring companies to engage early in the planning stage with Indigenous communities.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says changes will protect the environment and Indigenous rights, while ensuring that good projects receive timely approvals. The minister has said the government is open to accepting some amendments from the Senate.

However, the bill has provoked outrage in Alberta, where industry officials and politicians of all stripes have condemned it and complain that it injects broad policy considerations into reviews of specific projects, leaves too much discretion to the minister and intrudes on provincial jurisdiction.

Appearing by video-conference from Yukon, Kluane Adamek, regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations, said Bill C-69 fixes a glaring problem with the 2012 bill passed by the former Conservative government that, she said, failed to adequately protect Indigenous rights. The Liberal legislation establishes a meaningful role for Indigenous leaders in decisions over resource development on their traditional territory, Chief Adamek told the committee.

“This bill is not to be feared,” she said, adding that the provisions related to Indigenous participation “are necessary to bring the review process into compliance with Canada’s constitutional obligations.” Bill C-69 formally recognizes the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with its stipulation that governments and resources companies must obtain “free, prior, and informed consent” from affected Indigenous communities before they proceed with a project. The federal government argues that requirement does not give veto power to every First Nation community that would be affected.

In its amendments, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association proposes to keep a gender-based clause, but one that would refer to an explicit government policy on the subject, rather than leaving it open-ended for review panels to interpret. Similarly with climate change, the association urges the government to set clear policies against which projects would be assessed, rather than leaving a vague requirement in the bill that projects must be assessed in the context of Canada’s international climate commitments.

Broadly, the association is looking for amendments that would reduce the discretion of the minister to intervene in the process, limit the scope of issues to be considered by panels and maintain the National Energy Board as the primary agency responsible for impact reviews, rather than shifting the responsibility to a new agency as the bill now proposes.

Environmental groups argue the current bill strikes a reasonable balance and oppose the industry’s proposed changes. The industry had a major hand in crafting the Conservatives’ 2012 legislation, which left a system that is broken, said Anna Johnston, lawyer for West Coast Environmental Law association. “And these amendments would put us in a worse place than we are now,” she said.

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