Energy Agencies have no business in Environmental Assessments

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, I am speaking tonight in adjournment proceedings and the timing is almost impossible to believe.

On October 20, I attempted to warn the Minister of Environment and the Prime Minister of how very dangerous it would be to give the offshore petroleum boards in Atlantic Canada any power or role in environmental assessment.

The idea that the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board or the Canada-Newfoundland & Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board should have any role in the environmental assessment of projects over which they have regulatory authority is so desperately worrying. I say that because these boards are created by legislation which create a mandate to expand offshore oil and gas. That is their role. They have a mandate to expand offshore oil and gas.

My question to the minister on October 20 was that offshore petroleum boards in Atlantic Canada have legislated mandates to expand oil and gas activity. They have never had any role in environmental assessment, and if they did, it would be a conflict of interest. Now it appears that the Liberals are following through on Stephen Harper’s plans to put these boards involved into environmental assessments where they should not be. I have to say that my final question to the Minister of Environment was if she could assure this House that she will keep the offshore boards out of environmental assessment. Her answer was not very clear on October 20. The answer is really clear today, because we now have omnibus Bill C-69, which entrenches our role for these very boards in environmental assessments, where they have no business being.

There has been a bit of fancy footwork in the Liberal talking points. Both expert panels that reviewed the broken laws left after the Harper era caused by omnibus budget Bills C-38 and C-45. We had massive consultations. Very high-powered expert boards were commissioned to look at the National Energy Board and provide recommendations and to look at the environmental assessment process and provide recommendations. Both recommended that energy regulators should play no role in environmental assessment and there should be a stand-alone environmental assessment agency.

In some ways, if we were to read the press releases and the talking points, one might think that is what was just done today in Bill C-69. There is one agency, called the impact assessment agency, except for one thing. When one reads it in detail, one finds that when there is a project that would be regulated by one of these boards, what we used to call the National Energy Board—we will have to get used to calling it the Canadian energy regulator—under the offshore petroleum boards or the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, projects that fall under their general bailiwick, which, for the first time ever, Stephen Harper put in the frame of environmental assessment in 2012, under the Liberals they continue to play a role in environmental assessment and this is how they did the fancy footwork. There is only one environmental assessment agency, but when a project falls into one of those jurisdictions, the people put on the panel to review the project must be taken from the boards of those agencies and they are applying their other laws at the same time as they go through environmental review.

Let me talk about the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board. I am going to quote Dr. Lindy Weilgart, an adjunct professor at Dalhousie University and an international expert on seismic blasting. She talked about how the seismic surveys, approved by the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, in the migratory habitat of the endangered right whales indicated that air guns that are shot every 10 seconds around the clock, the loudest human-produced noise right after nuclear and chemical explosions. That is why she said that in 2016, 28 right whale experts declared the additional distress of widespread seismic air guns surveys represent a tipping point for the survival of this species, and the Liberals today have given them a role in environmental assessment. I am horrified by this and I ask my colleague, the hon. parliamentary secretary, how she can live with what the government has just done.

Kim Rudd- Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this issue raised by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands regarding the role of offshore boards in environmental assessment.

In June 2016, the Government of Canada launched a comprehensive review to restore the confidence of Canadians in federal environmental assessment processes, restore lost protections of our fisheries and waterways, and modernize the National Energy Board. Now, after more than 14 months of extensive engagement with indigenous leaders, provincial and territorial leaders, businesses, environmental groups, and Canadians, the Government of Canada introduced proposed legislation that reflects the values and priorities Canadians expressed throughout this process.

The proposed impact assessment act, tabled by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change lays out a vision for a modern impact assessment and regulatory system that recognizes that the environment and the economy must work together to help us build a sustainable future. It represents an important shift in the way that major projects will be assessed in Canada.

First, the proposed changes seek to broaden project reviews from environmental assessments to impact assessments with a focus on sustainability. This means that assessments would consider a broader range of potential impacts to understand how proposed projects could affect not just the environment but also social and health aspects, indigenous peoples, jobs, and thee economy over the long-term.

Second, regulatory certainty would be achieved by making the system more efficient and predictable, giving companies the clarity and predictability they need with legislated timelines. Also, a single federal agency, the impact assessment agency of Canada, would lead all impact assessments for major projects. This includes projects that are regulated by the offshore petroleum boards in Atlantic Canada. In recognition of the joint management offshore accords with Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador, the Agency would collaborate with the offshore boards in reviewing major offshore oil and gas projects. This would ensure that we continue to rely on the wealth of technical knowledge and expertise that they have developed over the past 30 years. Under the proposed framework, decisions would be based on whether a project with adverse effects is in the public interest, based on key factors.

Another element of the proposed legislation, reconciliation with indigenous peoples, is one of the main elements of the design of the new system. The proposed changes seek to build new partnerships based on recognition of indigenous rights up front. This includes early engagement and participation at every stage. This legislation would create new space for indigenous jurisdictions to enter into agreements with the federal government to exercise powers under the act, including the potential to conduct assessments. Going forward, it would be mandatory to consider and protect indigenous traditional knowledge alongside science and other evidence.

Finally, transparency and science are essential elements of the proposed new process. The new system aims for more openness and transparency. A new online platform would be created to share information and data, and to make it easier for the public to access.

In conclusion, the proposed legislation reflects values that are important to Canadians, including early, inclusive, and meaningful public engagement; nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown and government-to-government partnerships with indigenous peoples; timely decisions based on the best available science and indigenous traditional knowledge; and sustainability for present and future generations.

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to take up the point that the hon. member has made, that the offshore petroleum boards have developed technical work and expertise. However, I have worked these bodies. Their technical work and expertise means that the fox is guarding the hen house.

I will repeat that the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board in 2010 knowingly approved seismic testing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence when the most endangered whale species on the planet was making its transit. These boards are irresponsible. They are reckless. They are captured by industry, because their mandate in their legislation is to expand offshore oil and gas. They must be removed from anything to do with environmental assessment.

It is not as if the government was not warned. The Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Peskotomuhkati First Nations wrote to the government and told it that they had no confidence in these bodies. They begged it, as well as the fisheries organizations and environmental groups throughout Atlantic Canada: Do not put the offshore boards anywhere near environmental assessment.

They have ignored the warning on that side of the House. The Liberals have betrayed the whales, Atlantic Canadians, fishermen, and first nations. They must get these boards out of environmental assessment.

Kim Rudd

Mr. Speaker, through this proposed legislation, the Government of Canada has demonstrated its commitment to restoring robust and thorough reviews of major projects while working closely with provinces to avoid duplication. Our goal is to provide regulatory certainty to business, respect the rights of indigenous peoples, and engage communities to protect the environment for generations to come. We know that the environment and the economy must go hand in hand.

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