Breaking News: Bill C-69 passes Senate
On Thursday, June 20, the Senate passed a compromise version of Bill C-69 that was approved by the House of Commons last week. The amended bill includes numerous minor amendments proposed by the Senate but rejects many amendments proposed by the Senate that would have weakened Canada’s ability to consider its climate commitments in assessing development projects, exempted many fossil fuel projects from assessment altogether, and limited public participation in impact assessment processes.
The compromise bill also includes important new amendments proposed by the government that will allow development of regulations for strategic and regional assessments, and provide that one of the purposes of the legislation is to advance sustainable economic development (and not just any economic development).
Nature Canada’s overall view on the compromise Bill C-69? Flawed, but much better than the current assessment law.
Congratulations are due to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and her team, and officials at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and Environment and Climate Change Canada for shepherding the legislation through the Parliamentary process. Members of Parliament also deserve thanks for their work improving the bill. For its part, the unelected Senate acting prudently in accepting that the elected House of Commons should have the final word on legislation after giving due consideration to Senate amendments—too many of which were transcribed word-for-word from oil and gas industry submissions. Canadians should worry that the Senate in this Parliament worked mainly to weaken important environmental bills such as Bill C-69 but also Bill C-68 (the Fisheries Act) and Bill C-48 (the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act).
Bill C-69 will become law once the necessary regulations are finalized, possibly before the federal election.
House of Commons accepts 62 Senate amendments to Bill C-69
The House of Commons has voted for amendments to Bill C-69 that saves key features of the proposed legislation, accepting 62 Senate amendments, rejecting 130 and amending over 40.
The House voted in favour of Senate amendments depoliticizing the assessment process by assigning decision-making authorities to the Impact Assessment Agency rather than the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
The House demonstrated its concern for climate stability and nature conservation by rejecting amendments proposed by Conservative Senators that would:
· Weaken Canada’s ability to consider its climate commitments in assessing development projects;
· Provide statutory exemptions from assessment for projects such as pipelines, oil sands projects, and oil refineries that have serious greenhouse gas emissions and adversely affect nature;
· Limit public participation in impact assessment processes by imposing the “standing test”;
· Limit the authority of the courts to review the legality of assessments and decisions based on assessments; and
· Weaken the independence of impact reviews by authorizing the discredited National Energy Board, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and offshore oil and gas boards to appoint a majority of members to review panels.
Nature Canada is disappointed that the House supported a Senate amendment allowing the chairperson of these regulatory boards to chair review panels. This amendment also weakens the independence of the assessment process by giving “captured” regulators such as the National Energy Board some responsibility over the conduct of the assessment.
The House revised a Senate amendment to Bill C-69 confirming that one of the purposes of the law is to create opportunities for sustainable economic development (and not just any economic development, however unsustainable).
The House also voted in favour of a new amendment authorizing the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to write regulations setting rules for so-called strategic assessments and regional assessments that would provide guidance for impact assessments of projects under the Act.
The Senate must now consider whether to accept the changes to Bill C-69 that the House of Commons has passed or to propose further changes, which would then need to be referred back to the House of Commons again.
Nature Canada’s view is that the Senate should now defer to the democratically elected House of Commons, especially given that this legislation was a priority commitment of the current government when it was elected in 2015.
Nature Canada urges Senators to vote in favour of Bill C-69 as amended by the House of Commons.