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Report on Business Ontario Energy Minister tells Senate committee Bill C-69 skewed against economic productivity

The federal government’s environmental assessment legislation falls far short of achieving a proper balance between economic development and protection for the environment, Ontario Energy Minister Greg Rickford told a Senate committee.

Mr. Rickford appeared late on Tuesday before the Senate committee that is reviewing the Liberal government’s Bill C-69, which overhauls how Ottawa reviews major resource and other development projects.

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“We’re concerned with an omnibus type of environmental legislation that has the potential to significantly increase the amount of time these processes take, and we think … [is not] weighted sufficiently in favour of the economic productivity and activity that can arise from these projects," Mr. Rickford said in an interview. “To the extent that Bill C-69 imposes lengthier processes, that’s not an appealing option for us. We don’t support it.”

The legislation has provoked a storm of opposition from oil-industry supporters in Western Canada who argue it will chase investment out of the country. Protesters recently brought a truck convoy to Parliament Hill to support the energy sector and oppose Bill C-69, which Opposition MPs have dubbed the “no pipeline bill.”

Liberal ministers defend the bill, saying it will ensure major resource developments are properly assessed for their environmental, social and economic impacts, while allowing good projects to be approved in an efficient manner. Environmental groups and Indigenous leaders say the new act is an upgrade over the existing version, which, they argue, gave short shrift to their interests.

In a submission to the committee, Mr. Rickford raised concerns about how the federal legislation would affect the nuclear industry and the mining sector in the province.

He said the broad scope of the legislation would create a platform for anti-nuclear groups to debate Ontario’s energy policy while diminishing the effectiveness of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s (CNSC) oversight. The CNSC currently assesses proposed reactor projects, but under the new legislation, a new Impact Assessment Agency would take the lead in reviewing projects that could have major environmental impacts; the commission would play a supporting role in that effort.

Ontario’s written submission urged senators to amend the bill to exclude consideration of projects to refurbish existing nuclear reactors, new reactor construction at existing sites and construction of next-generation small reactors that have improved safety and lower environmental impacts than existing technology.

While the oil industry has condemned Bill C-69 and called for fundamental changes, the Mining Association of Canada said on Tuesday the bill represents an improvement over the existing regime for most of its members, although it, too, requested some amendments. Both the mining association and the Ontario government want an increased emphasis on economic development in the bill.

Mining association president Pierre Gratton warned against making changes that would undercut progress from the existing rules. Under legislation passed by the former Conservative government in 2012, most mining projects are evaluated by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA), while pipelines are reviewed by the National Energy Board.

Mr. Gratton said the 2012 change created a massive headache for the mining sector, as federal-provincial co-ordination broke down. “Mining investment in Canada is in crisis, and while CEAA 2012 is not the only reason for this, it is a factor,” he said.

He added, however, that Ontario has its own problems with environmental assessment, saying that a cumbersome provincial system has discouraged investment. The province – which traditionally was the industry leader – now ranks behind Quebec and British Columbia in new mines being built, and behind Quebec in spending on exploration.

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