Budget Implementation Act is Gutting of Environmental Laws in Disguise

Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party and Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands, spent most of her afternoon reading the 420 pages of Bill C-38, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures.

“Most of Bill C-38 has nothing to do with fiscal matters or what a budget is supposed to do.  Instead, it attacks environmental legislation, amending the Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, and repealing the Kyoto Implementation Act, along with cancelling the National Round Table on Environment and Economy,” said May.

Putting all this in the Budget Implementation Act (Bill C-38) means that none of the environmental laws being changed will ever go to the Environment Committee or be examined by environmental experts.

“This should have been called the ‘we don’t care about the environment’ act,” said May.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) gets the biggest wallop. 

CEAA is essentially repealed.  The original 79 page Act will shrink to a 40 page Act, creating a whole new scheme for review. The scope is incredibly narrow — only those elements of the environment under “legislative authority of Parliament” will be assessed, namely fish, aquatic species, and migratory birds.  No other species or ecosystems are included, nor are health, socio-economic effects, physical or cultural heritage or any other elements that have traditionally been part of environmental assessment.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency will, on receiving a complete application, within 45 days decide if ANY environmental assessment is required, with wide discretion.  Environmental reviews are no longer required for projects involving federal money.  The Minister is given very large levels of discretion to decide if there should be a panel review. Cabinet will be able to overrule both CEAA and the National Energy Board (NEB).

The new equivalency rules downloading Environmental Assessment to the provinces may turn out to be the largest problem. There are also retroactive sections, setting the clock at July 2010 for existing projects.

“Instead of a rigorous thorough process to ensure the environmental safety of projects, we are left with politicians deciding which projects should go ahead,” said May. “The checks and balances that were the strength of CEAA are now gone. It is a transparent bid to ensure that pet oil projects and pipelines are guaranteed to happen despite the potentially harmful impacts.”

C-38 also guts the Fisheries Act’s habitat provisions.  “Apparently, the only important fish are those that are ‘commercial, Aboriginal and recreational’ and, once again, the biggest problem is the creation of equivalency so that the Fisheries Act and its regulations do not apply in the provinces,” said May.

Also in C-38, the NEB absorbs the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) whenever a pipeline crosses navigable waters.  The NWPA is amended to say a pipeline is not a “work” within that Act. The NEB Act is also amended to put Cabinet in a superior position to over-rule its decisions.

The Species at Risk Act (SARA) is also amended to allow the NEB to permit activities that kill or harm endangered species.

“The Harper Conservatives have systematically gone after each of our environmental laws and dismantled the underpinnings of environmental protection in this country,” said May.

Environmental charities are also attacked.  The charities sections of C-38 now preclude any gifts which may result in a political activity. Foreign charities can only provide funds to Canadian charities if the Minister is satisfied the foreign organization is “carrying on relief activities in response to a disaster, providing urgent humanitarian aid, or carrying on activities in the national interest of Canada.”

“I always thought protecting our natural heritage was in the national interest of Canada. I guess the Harper Conservatives disagree,” said May.