Will participant intervenors have the right to cross-examine the proponent?

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, I know the hon. minister has been working hard. I certainly have made many efforts to brief the department and submit briefs.

I find it disturbing that after all this time, the fundamental lessons of environmental assessment have escaped the drafters of this legislation. It is not about getting to faster decisions, yes or no.

I hate to sound so very old, but I participated in the first environmental assessment in this country, which took place in 1976. The goal of environmental assessment is not binary, top down, and discounting the views of the Green Party, and others who find this completely inadequate as improved rules, by saying that we somehow want only “no” decisions and are not prepared to see development. What is frustrating is that environmental assessment has always been primarily a planning tool. It takes time to get to good decisions.

It is also about modifying proposals. For example, the oriented strand board plant in Manitoba, during the course of the EA, changed its smokestack provisions to cut out more toxic effluent than it planned. The Al-Pac mill, in northern Alberta, changed its plans because the environmental assessment revealed that it could do better.

What I find is a collective sort of amnesia, which is sad. The minister believes, apparently, that she has revealed the first made-in-Canada climate plan. We had an excellent made-in-Canada climate plan in 2005. Former environment minister Stéphane Dion, now our ambassador to Germany, could fully inform that side of the House on that climate plan. In 2005 we also had effective environmental assessment legislation that worked better than what is before us today.

I have a question for the minister, because I cannot determine the answer from reading the bill. It is not transparency Canadians want. It is effective environmental review with rights for the public to participate effectively. This means that we would not ever see a travesty like what happened in the Kinder Morgan NEB review, where intervenors were denied the right to cross-examine experts. I see in this bill public participation in subclause 53(3) and the ability to participate in clause 51. However, with these increased timelines, will participant intervenors have the right to cross-examine the proponent?

Catherine McKenna

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member opposite for her long-standing commitment to the environment.

We think we can do better with environmental assessments. With due respect, I agree that environmental assessments are not about just transparency but are about making sure we have transparency as a precondition of trust. It is only with trust that we can have a system Canadians believe in and good projects can go ahead.

The concerns raised reflect the National Energy Board. There were major problems. I heard from Canadians about them. I heard from indigenous peoples that they were not given standing. They were not given the opportunity to make their views fully heard. That is why we have moved forward with, for example, recognition of rights up front. Anyone would have the ability to participate in these reviews through our early engagement process.

We will be working with indigenous peoples to have an engagement plan, because we believe that the more information we get early on, the better it is, and then we can come to more timely decisions in the end.

That is really what this is all about. We understand that the environment and the economy go together, and that is the system we have designed.