Getting the NEB out of environmental assessments

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise this evening in adjournment proceedings to pursue a question that I asked on September 20. It was to the Minister of Natural Resources. As congenial as it was, I did not find the answer satisfactory, because it did not actually answer my question.

My question related to the changes made in the spring of 2012 to Canada’s National Energy Board Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which had existed since the early 1990s, was repealed. That was a tragedy that I hope we will see reversed, but I am afraid that the train of the debate tonight will reveal my very diminishing hopes that we will see our laws restored to what they were in 2006.

One aspect of what the previous Conservative government did in its omnibus budget bill, Bill C-38, was to massively change the way environmental assessments were pursued. One part of that was to say—and this was never defended as a policy choice, and no rationale was ever offered—that we should treat certain energy projects as distinct from all other projects in terms of environmental review under federal law. Pipelines, for the first time, had environmental reviews done by the National Energy Board, offshore drilling had environmental reviews assigned to the offshore petroleum boards from Atlantic Canada, and changes to new projects that involved nuclear energy would have environmental reviews by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. This was unheard of.

What I pointed out in my question to the minister on September 20 was that the National Energy Board, in doing environmental reviews on pipelines, was showing a much greater willingness to approve a project that interfered with caribou habitat than when Environment Canada reviewed a mining project in the same region with the same caribou herd. Mining projects were given a much rougher ride than pipeline projects. My question to the minister was if he would confirm that the National Energy Board would get out of environmental assessments once and for all. That was the expert advice given to the new government by two different expert panels: one expert panel on the National Energy Board and another on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Both expert panels said that the National Energy Board should get out of environmental reviews.

The National Energy Board is not an institution that knows how to do environmental reviews. The National Energy Board expert panel said very clearly that the board should be renamed the Canadian energy transmission commission; its mandate should be clearer; and it should be doing more to explain what it means by “national interest” than it has in the way it has been operating for the last number of years. Under the topic of environmental assessment review, the environmental assessment expert panel recommended putting one agency in charge and giving it quasi-judicial status. The National Energy Board has quasi-judicial status and the Environmental Assessment Agency should have it.

To me, it has been devastating to watch the government ignore the reports of two different expert panels. I say it has ignored them because it has not responded to them. A discussion document pushed together four different reviews. The discussion document came out at the end of June, but it was very clear that the government had no intention of fixing environmental assessment and getting the National Energy Board out of environmental assessment, because the discussion document said that the National Energy Board, the offshore petroleum boards, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission would be involved in environmental reviews, working alongside a revised Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

Can the parliamentary secretary confirm that the government is interested in fixing this problem and getting the NEB out of environmental assessments?

Kim Rudd – Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, there is an old axiom that states “Much can be said on both sides.” We have seen that with the comments coming from members opposite. On one side, we have the official opposition demanding the status quo for the National Energy Board, arguing that what is not broken does not require fixing. On the other side, we have heard from those, like the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, who insist that nothing less than a complete overhaul of the federal regulator will do. Such is the range of opinions on that side of the House.

Our government has opted for a more measured approach to modernizing the National Energy Board, taking the time to consult with Canadians from all walks of life and from all parts of the country. We saw how well our approach worked with Generation Energy. More than 380,000 Canadians from across the country, and indeed around the world, participated in the conversation to imagine Canada’s energy future. Another 650 Canadians advanced those discussions at a two-day forum in Winnipeg this fall.

We have been doing the exact same thing with the National Energy Board, listening carefully and engaging constructively. Why? Because we recognized when we came to office that we needed to restore the competence of Canadians in the way major resource projects were being assessed. We have been doing just that, step by step, first with an interim strategy and then with a comprehensive review.

As the member mentioned, we have since published our discussion paper on the proposed approach, an approach that honours our commitment to advance reconciliation with indigenous peoples, protect the environment, and ensure greater investment certainty. Soon, we will introduce that legislation. That legislation reflects the feedback we received.

It will include modernizing the National Energy Board to ensure it serves the needs of Canadians into the future. It will reflect regional views and have sufficient expertise in fields such as environmental science, community development, and indigenous traditional knowledge.

Our government’s vision is clear, and it is built upon three key pillars: economic prosperity, environmental protection, and indigenous partnerships. By rebuilding public trust, re-engaging with indigenous peoples, and revamping the regulatory process, we can create the conditions to ensure that good resource projects go ahead and get our resources to market.

The early results bear that out. On our watch, we have approved major resource projects that will grow the economy, spur billions of dollars in new investments, and create thousands of jobs, even as they also demand greater environmental performance.

We are delivering for Canadians in the energy sector. We are delivering on the economy. We are delivering for the environment.

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, it certainly is appalling to hear that the promises made by the Liberals in the platform and in the campaign have now become my views and the opposition, for which I hold them to too high a standard. I am holding them to their election promises. I recall clearly the current Prime Minister saying on the campaign trail that no project could be approved based on the broken process it was now going through. That broken process was allowing the National Energy Board to do environmental assessments.

The Liberals say they have consulted. Yes, they have consulted. They have spent, I am sure, millions of dollars on the expert panels that went across the country and gave them very specific recommendations, which they appear now to be ready to completely ignore.

I implore the parliamentary secretary to speak to the minister and ensure that the National Energy Board has no role in environmental assessments. It is ill-equipped and incompetent to do such a review.

Kim Rudd

Mr. Speaker, I would ask the member opposite to perhaps hold her fire until she has seen the new legislation. Until then, our government’s track record speaks for itself. Over the past two years, our government has been approving major resource projects that will create thousands of jobs in the energy sector, while ensuring a more robust environmental stewardship. Our government does not view resource development as an either or proposition.

We see economic prosperity and environmental protection as two sides of the same coin and equal components of a single engine for innovation, growth, and jobs.