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A brand new low for Canada’s Conservative government

The Budget Implementation Bill C-38 was introduced this past week and it provides the details of the initiatives announced in the March 29 federal Budget. Bill C-38 includes so many changes to environmental laws and regulations in Canada that it would be impossible to discuss them all in one post but I do want to just give you some idea of the extent to which the Harper government is attacking environmental regulations with this Bill. A Toronto Star article this week said that “The Harper government has launched the biggest overhaul ever of federal environmental protections as part of a massive (421-page) bill to implement its March 29 budget.”

Even the right-leaning National Post columnist Andrew Coyne was appalled, saying that Bill C-38 “amends some 60 different acts, repeals half a dozen, and adds three more, including a completely rewritten Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. It ranges far beyond the traditional budget concerns of taxing and spending, making changes in policy across a number of fields from immigration to telecommunications, to land codes on native reservations.” Coyne goes on to say that “ this is not remotely a budget bill, despite its name”.

Here’s a sample of what the budget bill says when it comes to the changes the government intends to make on the environment file.

  • It repeals the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, putting an official end to Canada’s commitment to the international agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The bill sets timelines for environmental assessment hearings and will block participation in the hearings by those not directly affected by the project. It also allows Ottawa to shirk responsibility by handing off assessments to the provinces and consolidates the process in three government agencies: the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environment Assessment Agency.
  • It empowers the federal cabinet to give the go-ahead to pipelines and other major energy projects regardless of the conclusions of regulatory hearings on the feasibility of the projects. The changes mean if the National Energy Board disapproves of a project, such as the Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands to the coast of BC, cabinet can overrule it.
  • Finally, it makes changes to how permits under the Species at Risk Act are authorized allowing the National Energy Board to permit activities that kill or harm endangered species. And it shortens the list of protected species under the Act.

Now I’ve railed before against this government’s various assaults on the environment and environmental groups but this Bill really takes their war on nature to a new level. And the fact that all these legislative changes have been tagged on to the Budget Bill is nothing short of cowardly and underhanded. This way, the government hopes that the extreme changes they are proposing will somehow not be noticed by the media and public amongst all the financial details of the Bill. One thing we know is that these unprecedented measures will not be given a fair hearing in Parliament. If the Harper government truly believes these changes need to be made, why won’t they introduce them as separate legislation so that they can be properly debated in the House of Commons and reviewed by the appropriate committees? Of course, the answer is that they don’t want them to be debated or discussed for fear of the backlash that might ensue from the Canadian public.

As Andrew Coyne wrote: this Bill “utterly eviscerates the committee process, until now regarded as one of the last useful roles left to MPs. How can one committee, in this case Finance, properly examine all of these diverse measures, with all of the many areas of expertise they require, especially in the time allotted to them?”

So there you have it. Another glorious day for Canadian democracy.

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