Nature Canada

Is Canada’s unelected Senate indifferent to climate and biodiversity crises?

Indifferent to climate and biodiversity crises? Shills for the oil and gas industry? Anti-democratic?

An open letter by Nature Canada’s Stephen Hazell to Canada’s Senators argues that these will be the public perceptions of Senators if amendments proposed by the Senate Energy Committee are passed by the unelected Senate at third reading.

The Energy Committee is proposing roughly 200 amendments, many of which will damage the ability of the government to gather information about impacts of proposed projects. The worst amendments would

  • Weaken Canada’s ability to consider its climate and biodiversity commitments in assessing development projects;
  • Limit assessments to studying only those environmental effects that fall within federal jurisdiction;
  • Take away assessment of new pipelines and nuclear reactors from the Impact Assessment Agency and hand the assessments back to the regulators who have failed to carry out proper assessments since 2012;  and
  • Limit public participation in impact assessment processes needed for projects to succeed.

The open letter argues that the Senate Committee misunderstood the challenges facing federal assessment, many of which are manifest in the controversial reviews of the Trans Mountain and Energy East projects. These challenges largely stem from the Harper government’s hastily enacted Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012(CEAA 2012) not Bill C-69.

Bill C-69 addresses with some success the failures of CEAA 2012 by establishing a single federal assessment agency, removing legal constraints on public participation, establishing a sound constitutional footing for federal law, and providing more flexibility in legislative time frames that are impairing federal-provincial collaboration in impact assessment.

The Energy Committee’s proposed amendments would exacerbate CEAA 2012’s problems and constrain federal authority to understand the ecological, social and economic impacts to allow sound decision-making. If enacted, these amendments would increase public mistrust of the process, spur litigation, and increase uncertainty for project proponents.

Worst of all, the Energy Committee seems to have understood its role to be to provide legislated guarantees that major oil and gas industry projects will be approved whatever the harm to climate or nature. The very week that the House of Commons debated the climate emergency, the Energy  Committee proposed amendments that would weaken the ability of federal reviews to assess climate impacts of projects and exempt from assessment high-carbon projects such as in situ oil sands projects. The very month that a United Nations report concluded that extinction looms for one million species of plants and animals due to unsustainable human activities, the Energy Committee proposed amendments limiting the scope of environmental factors that federal reviews could assess.

The open letter urges Senators to vote against the amendments proposed by the ENEV Committee. Text of the full open letter.

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