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McKenna’s pipeline-friendly Bill C-69 fails to protect water or make environmental assessments credible

Environment minister Catherine McKenna speaking on Bill C-69 yesterday.

During the October 2015 federal election, the Liberal Party pledged, “We will make environmental assessments credible again.” Bill C-69, tabled by environment minister Catherine McKenna yesterday, fails to keep that promise. The government’s 451-page omnibus bill misses the mark of undoing the damage done by the Harper government’s C-38 and C-45 omnibus bills.

1- Restore lost protections, modern safeguards?

In 2015, the Liberals stated, “Stephen Harper’s changes to the Fisheries Act, and his elimination of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, have weakened environmental protections. We will review these changes, restore lost protections, and incorporate more modern safeguards.” And yet, Bill C-69 weakly states, “A person must not construct or operate a pipeline that passes in, on, over, under, through or across a navigable water unless a certificate has been issued.” McKenna highlighting yesterday that $500 billion in major resource projects are planned across Canada over the next ten years rather than recognizing water as a finite resource and a human right does not sound modern.

2- All waterways are protected, except when they are not

While McKenna says that all waterways are now protected under the Canadian Navigable Waters Act, there is a new more narrow definition of what is a navigable water and a schedule of waterways in which lakes and rivers can be added or deleted. McKenna says that the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline that crosses more than 1,300 water courses in British Columbia and Alberta would have been approved under this new Act. Among those threatened waterways, the pipeline would cross the lower portions of the Fraser River, North America’s primary salmon-producing fish habitat.

3- Offshore oil and gas set to expand, right whales endangered

Michael Harris writes, “Between April 2014 and November 2015, British Petroleum conducted three-dimensional seismic surveys off the shores of Nova Scotia in its proposed drilling area. The Environmental Assessment for the project was done under the auspices of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act – the same board that awarded the exploration licenses to BP. Is the Trudeau government attuned to the threats to marine species in the Gulf of St. Lawrence from seismic surveys and drilling? [Bill C-69] left offshore petroleum boards [including the Canada-Nova Scotia board] with considerable approval power over exploration and drilling projects.”

4- No means no, except with Indigenous consent

McKenna says, “We need to be looking to secure consent. But you’re never going get everyone who’s going to agree. We’ve agreed to UNDRIP. You need to work as hard as you can to get consent, but in the end you need to make a decision.” Neskonlith Nation Chief Judy Wilson says, “It’s still problematic with the unilateral say of the federal government. We never surrendered our title. The Crown is saying they are still taking to colonial notions that they hold absolute Crown sovereignty, which they don’t have and they still haven’t dealt with our title as a nation.” Winnipeg-based Cree activist Clayton Thomas-Muller says, “Trying really hard and obeying the law are two very different things.”

5- Oil and gas industry gets speedy reviews

The Canadian Press reports, “The biggest or most involved projects will be assessed by a review panel appointed by the minister. Review panels will have 600 days, rather than 720, to complete their work and cabinet will make the decision whether a project goes ahead, within 90 days. Both the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said they were pleased with the legislated timelines and the ‘one project, one assessment’ philosophy behind the new act.” They should be – this is what they advocated for when they lobbied the Harper government to gut the Navigable Waters Protection Act and environmental reviews in 2011.

The Council of Canadians calls on the federal government to 1) table new water protection legislation that enshrines the United Nations recognized ‘obligation to protect’ drinking water from being polluted; 2) respect the UN recognized right to ‘free, prior and informed consent’; 3) protect the Fraser River and 1,300 waterways by rejecting the Kinder Morgan pipeline; 4) protect the oceans and the endangered right whale by banning offshore oil and gas drilling; 5) rather than legislating a 2-year review deadline for oil and gas project approvals, commit to the deadline of a 100 per cent clean energy economy by 2050.