Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act (Bill C-38)

On Friday, May 11th, 2012 in Speeches
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Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to talk about Bill C-38.

I am sad because this bill is worse than any other this Parliament has debated, and that is for two reasons.

First, without consulting Canadians, the government chose to introduce sweeping changes to many laws that affect environmental, social and economic aspects of Canadian life. This approach is illegitimate and outrageous. The process is unacceptable and an offence to true democracy.

Second, beyond the process that is so offensive, the bill that purports to be a budget bill is, in substance, something quite different. The substance of the changes is equally alarming.

Laws this bad take some explanation. As I have sat through the truncated debate on this process at second reading, what we have had are presentations from the Conservative MPs providing lists of things they like in the legislation, and presentations from the opposition benches providing lists of things we do not like in the legislation. That leaves out a big piece of the puzzle.

We have also been confusing measures that are a budget measures that are not in Bill C-38, things like fighting the deficit. There are things we do not like, like killing the Centre for Plant Health in my own riding, which is necessary to protect the health of the economy, particularly in the grape growing regions and wineries, and killing jobs in national parks, again in my riding of Saanich—Gulf Islands, the Gulf Islands National Park jobs in ecological work.

However, again, these are not in Bill C-38. The debate has been combatting lists. We like this and we hate this.

I want to step back and try to understand what is going on here. Why do we have this enormous package of measures, most of the substantial changes being those that unravel environmental law in our country? 

I have been involved in the development of most of the laws that we now see being unravelled, particularly the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy Act. What I see behind all this is a shift in mindset.

I worked in the Mulroney government. The Progressive Conservatives understood that conserving involved conserving the environment. This is not necessarily the current mindset of the current brand of conservatism, which I find alien from the traditions and roots of people like former fisheries ministers John Fraser and Tom Siddon. Both have spoken out against the devastating changes to the protection of fish habitat in Bill C-38 and the unintended consequences that this will surely have.

This mindset reminds me most of what the former senior economist to the World Bank, Herman Daly, used to describe as “treating the earth as a business in liquidation”, an everything must go mentality and it must be done fast. He offered the opposite view. He said that we needed to understand that the economy was a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, that these things were not in conflict and that it was so wrong-headed to say that we would only get jobs if we destroyed the environment. It boggles the mind.

When we understand that this is the way this entire omnibus budget bill has been prepared, then it begins to make sense. Then we understand the narrative and then we can understand that someone in the PMO picked up the phone, called the Department of Justice or maybe just sent an email, said that it should find all those things for which the federal government is responsible for the environment and find ways to withdraw from them to the maximum extent possible without offending constitutional requirements to protect such things as migratory birds, because we have a convention with the U.S., or fisheries, because that is in the Constitution.

For example, there is no other way to understand why the Conservatives repealed the Environmental Assessment Act and put in place an entirely new act. Most of what we have heard is that they wanted to have timely assessments. I do not think there would be much debate over that.

In 2005 I proposed to the minister of the environment that in order to get a review of the proposed cleanup at the Sydney tar ponds, which itself presented risks, a timeline would be a good idea. In fact, a 12-month timeline was put in place for the joint review panel of the cleanup proposed for the Sydney tar ponds back in 2005. That could be done under the existing legislation. We do not need to repeal the act and start over.

To all these complaints, the Conservatives claim that industry was demanding this be done, I have in front of me a briefing note from the Mining Association of Canada from January of this year in which it praises the current process under Environmental Assessment Review. It says, “the amendments that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act made in 2010 were implemented quickly and competently by the agency” and it has “provided mining project proponents with relief”. It says that for the first time “provincial and federal assessments are synchronized”. This is from the Mining Association of Canada, allegedly one of the interest groups for whom the Conservative government is destroying all of our environmental laws. The Mining Association of Canada says, “our primary interest in the review of the Environmental Assessment Act is to convey support for the new system brought in…and to renew funding for the Environmental Assessment Agency”.

It is critical to understand that the government did not have to repeal the Environmental Assessment Act in order to have a process that worked for all the players. It looks as though this desperate attempt to be in a hurry is where the problem lies. What the government has done is so egregious. The Environmental Assessment Act being repealed and replaced with a whole new scheme that will never get proper review through the process we have in an omnibus project.

The Conservatives are removing what had always been a federal trigger for a proper environmental assessment, if federal money was being spent. That is no longer there. They are removing comprehensive studies. They are no longer there.

There is no real definition of what an environmental assessment would be. We have a reference in the budget document to something called a “standard environmental assessment”, but Bill C-38 has removed all definitions of what the process would look like.

Killing the comprehensive studies and creating panels that can be substituted with the province without criteria, in my view, would have the industry coming to government asking what it had done as the process had worked pretty well. In fact, the Mining Association of Canada says, “very well”. Now we will not know what project has to go to review or what project does not, when we go to the province or when we do not.

At the same time, in order to unravel the federal responsibilities that trigger an environmental assessment, the government has created a crazy scheme for fisheries. It still requires a permit to add substances “deleterious” to fish, but the protections for fish habitat have been removed.

This means, and as we all know this is a real-life example, that if one wanted to have a large-scale project, for instance, to put tailings into an existing lake, we would be better off, if the lake were in a remote area where no one fishes, to drain the whole lake, kill all the fish and destroy the habitat because that would be legal without an authorization. Whereas adding substances “deleterious” to fish into a lake currently would require authorization. This is the ultimate example of haste makes waste.

The bill has not properly contemplated the changes to the Fisheries Act, the Environmental Assessment Act, or the changes to the Species at Risk Act. The bill is out of control through the false notion that we will create jobs through waste and haste.

I remind people that it is now 20 years since the Westray disaster in which 26 men died. There was no environmental review at that time, as it was back in 1988 when the project was approved, but there were warnings. The experts in the department of mines said that the area was too high in methane, but no, the local politicians and some federal politicians wanted those jobs. They wanted them so badly that they overrode expert advice. They said that they had to get that Westray mine built come hell or high water, that they would do it and that they did not want to hear complaints about causes or what might happen to get in the way. Therefore, federal money flowed. We created a bomb and put men in it, and 26 men died.

Now we are creating another kind of bomb. The first speaker on the bill was not the Minister of Finance, but the Minister of Natural Resources who brought forward all the reasons to change the scheme. He said that we must hurry as there was no time to waste. He quoted from the International Energy Agency on the current state of fossil fuel requirements around the world, but he never quoted the warning from the International Energy Agency that if we did not act on the climate crisis, it would soon be too late. The quote from the International Energy Agency from earlier this year is this, “Delaying action is a false economy. As each year passes without clear signals to drive investment in clean energy, the ‘lock-in’ of high-carbon infrastructure is making it harder and more expensive to meet our energy security and climate goals”. We must change direction. This bill is putting pedal to the metal to go as fast as possible to a very large brick wall.

Going back to the bomb we built for the men at Westray, we are now building a climate bomb, a carbon bomb. The proposed legislation is so wrong-headed it must be withdrawn in its entirety.

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