Conservative and Independent Senators on Tuesday tabled competing packages of amendments to the government’s much-criticized Bill C-69 that aims to overhaul Ottawa’s system for approving major resource projects.
The Conservative version would require fundamental changes sought by some provinces, and major oil and pipeline industry associations but would likely be rejected by the Liberal government.
The Independent Senate Group has put forward 80 amendments that it says would clarify the bill and answer some of the concerns of industry but would be more likely to be accepted by the Liberal government.
Senators began debating the amendments late Tuesday but agreed to have the committee clerk work on two packages to find common ground before they resume their efforts.
The Liberal government argues Bill C-69 would speed up the review of major resource projects, ensuring those in the public interest are approved, while providing greater protection to the environment and the rights if Indigenous people.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told the committee last week that passage of the bill in anything resembling its current form would severely hurt the oil industry, feed western alienation and provoke a court challenge from his government.
Energy industry executives and provincial governments have slammed the bill, saying it would drive away investment and intrude on areas of provincial responsibility. Environmental groups, meanwhile, worry the fierce lobbying campaign waged over it will result in the bill being tilted to favour development.
Conservative Senator Michael MacDonald tabled 70 amendments – 192 pages – and asked the committee to support the entire package that would stress economic development, rein in the discretion of the Minister of Environment to intervene in the review process and limit public participation in hearings.
Senator MacDonald said the Liberals’ Bill C-69 is the most controversial he has dealt with in his 10 years in the Senate and is the most studied by a Senate committee, which held hearings across the country on it.
“The prevailing view of the bill is overwhelmingly negative,” he said. “We heard it from the provinces, the municipalities and national industry associations. In fact, industry has told us that their proposed amendments already represent a significant compromise on their part, in good faith, and they are not willing to further compromise on their compromise.”
However, Independent Senator Yuen Pau Woo criticized the Conservatives for adopting a package of amendments put forward by the industry associations representing pipeline and oil companies. “We are senators, not stenographers,” he told the committee.
The Independent amendments “touch on all the key issues that we heard expressed from industry, from environmental groups, from First Nations and others,” he said in an interview. He said the changes would also limit ministerial discretion and provide greater clarity that economic impacts must be considered along with social and environmental ones during reviews.
Alberta Independent Senator Paula Simons said there are “not a lot of radical differences” in the two packages and urged other committee members to work together to find “elegant solutions.”
Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told the committee last week that the government was open to some amendments. Senator Woo said the Independent leaders consulted with the government to ensure it would accept the proposed amendments so the bill can be passed before summer.