The premiers of Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador have urged Senators to make major amendments to Bill C-69 – the federal government’s resource project approval bill – warning it will add more delays to an already cumbersome system.
Alberta’s Rachel Notley and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Dwight Ball travelled to Ottawa to make their case in person on Thursday to the Senate committee on energy, the environment and natural resources.
The two premiers sided with other provinces and industry voices in calling for amendments aimed at removing overlap with existing provincial approval processes, setting specific deadlines for decision-making and using clearer language to reduce the risk of lengthy legal challenges.
“Bill C-69 needs to be rewritten,” Ms. Notley said after her presentation to senators. The Alberta government will be proposing a package of amendments to senators that the Premier said are broadly in line with recommendations from industry groups, including the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
The Premier said she’s made the case to federal officials behind the scenes, but questioned whether the government fully recognizes the bill’s problems.
“My message was pretty simple,” she said. “It’s that we don’t believe yet that Ottawa quite gets it … and for the sake of the country, Ottawa needs to start getting it very fast.”
During her testimony, Ms. Notley said there are parts of the bill that are worth keeping. However, she warned that other sections are unclear and will invite legal challenges and delays.
“The only people making money will be the lawyers,” she said.
On Thursday afternoon, the committee secured Senate funding to hold cross-country hearings on the bill. Should the senators ultimately decide to amend the bill, that would mean sending it back to the House of Commons for approval. Members of Parliament could reject some or all of the Senate’s amendments, requiring further debate and votes in the Senate.
However, with just 36 scheduled sitting days left in the Senate before Parliament rises in June, it is possible the bill could simply die in Parliament because of the looming October federal election.
That outcome would not disappoint Saskatchewan’s Energy and Resources Minister Bronwyn Eyre, who called for the bill to be scrapped when she addressed the Senate committee on Thursday prior to the two premiers.
“I think time is our friend on this one. I think it is very important that those cross-country hearings take place to hear from people on the ground,” she said in an interview after the meeting. “I do believe that this should be an election issue, particularly once we know what is really in the bill and in the regulations. Let people decide.”
Bill C-69 would replace the existing Canadian Environmental Assessment Act with the Impact Assessment Act. The new law would create a process for assessing the environmental, health, social and economic effects of large projects, such as pipelines.
It also creates the Canadian Energy Regulator Act to regulate pipelines, abandoned pipelines, power lines, renewable energy projects and other energy-related facilities.
The legislation is generating strong opposition from oil industry supporters in Western Canada, and senators have been the target of an extensive lobbying campaign to amend the bill or prevent it from passing. It was first introduced a year ago and was approved with amendments by the House of Commons and sent to the Senate last June. Senate committee hearings did not begin until December. Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has said the government will consider any amendments put forward by senators.
Not all industry groups oppose the bill. The Canadian Mining Association told senators on Tuesday that the bill represents an improvement over the existing regime for most of its members. The mining association said a greater emphasis on economic development in the bill would be welcome.
The four Atlantic premiers wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this month stating that while C-69 represents “a real opportunity to improve assessment of resource projects," amendments are required in areas such as better defining the public consultation process and giving greater weight to economic considerations.
Mr. Ball said the Atlantic premiers have not received a response.
“We need to be able to put confidence back into a system where those investors and those people with environment concerns can understand clearly what the approach is,” he said. “Until we get the clarity and confidence that’s required, people will stand back and not make the investments that we think are critical at this particular point in time.”