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NEWS: NDP amendments to C-9 to be debated this week

Jack Layton

Jack Layton

Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom wrote last week that, “Bill C-9 is ostensibly designed to implement federal budget measures, including some popular tax changes, approved back in March. But it goes much farther than anything explicitly detailed in that budget and, if passed, would give Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government new authority on a wide variety of fronts. One of its more stunning proposals — particularly in light of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster — would exempt a wide range of commercial projects from rules designed to protect the environment.”

Walkom adds, “The Liberals, desperate to avoid an election they believe they can’t yet win, are letting the bill move ahead anyway.”

The Globe and Mail reported yesterday that, “New Democrat Leader Jack Layton taunted his Liberal counterpart Michael Ignatieff Saturday to vote against the Conservative government’s ‘Trojan horse’ budget legislation. Mr. Layton said the 880-page Bill C-9 contains several provisions his party cannot accept. Among those measures are ones Mr. Layton said would gut environmental-assessment rules — especially relevant in light of the big Gulf of Mexico oil spill. There are also provisions that would allow for the sale of Atomic Energy Canada Ltd., and privatize parts of Canada Post. The NDP leader said Harper should strip the items from the bill and allow separate debate on them.”

“An NDP amendment to be debated in the Commons this coming week would remove them from the larger bill.”

The Globe and Mail reported on March 31 that, “The federal Conservatives are giving Environment Minister Jim Prentice clear legal authority to avoid ordering full assessments of environmentally controversial projects, such as major mines and oil sands operations, according to a provision contained in the bill implementing details of the government’s new budget. The new provisions weren’t publicly announced at the time the budget was unveiled earlier in March, and only came to light late Tuesday after the release of the bill implementing financial aspects of the government new economic measures. Federal environmental assessments are usually applied to big and controversial industrial projects, such as pipelines, mines, and marine terminals. They’re typically ordered in cases where a project might harm fish habitat or have other impacts on wildlife. The key provisions of the legislation will give Mr. Prentice the power to order reviews of only small aspects of potentially damaging projects, and not the entire undertakings, as is now usually the case.”

The Globe and Mail had also reported on March 14 that, “A leaked government document outlining the proposed changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act indicates Environment Minister Jim Prentice has asked for a bill ‘overhauling’ the legislation as soon as possible. Under the new system, the government should ‘expect to capture 200-300 projects per year,’ the document states. That would represent a more than 95 per cent drop from the roughly 6,000 federal environmental assessments that currently take place each year.”

And as we noted in our budget day analysis on March 5, “The Harper government wants to support (‘global investment’ in ‘our abundant energy potential’) by accelerating ‘regulatory reviews of major energy projects’, like the environmentally-destructive projects in the tar sands. It says ‘responsibility for conducting environmental assessments for energy projects will be delegated from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for projects falling under their respective areas of expertise.’ The government also says ‘the resource potential in Canada’s North is world-class’ but that “potential investors in northern resource projects face complex and overlapping regulatory processes’. To remove these ‘unpredictable, costly and time-consuming’ protections, they will spend $11 million over two years ‘to support the acceleration of the review of resource projects in the North’. This undoubtedly is driven by the US Geological Survey reporting in July 2008 that the Arctic Circle has 90 billion barrels of ‘technically recoverable’ oil and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.”

Just yesterday Walkom wrote in another column that, “Until the Gulf spill occurred, Ottawa’s National Energy Board appeared poised to give Arctic drillers – including BP – an exemption from crucial environmental safety rules, simply because they found them inconvenient. Canada’s federal government is quietly pushing ahead with plans to give the oil industry a double boost — first by giving the more pliant NEB sole responsibility for the environmental assessment of Arctic oil proposals; second by letting the cabinet exempt some projects from scrutiny altogether. The opposition Liberals, desperate to avoid an election they might lose, are refusing to block either. The politicians and their oil friends calculate — probably correctly — that a year from now the Gulf spill will be forgotten, the media will again be focused on Tiger Woods’ sex life and few will be paying attention to who regulates what in the Beaufort Sea.”