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Budget Act Unravels Environmental Laws

2012/04/28

The following is an excellent critique of the proposed changes to the Canadian environmental laws and regulations which are part of this year’s federal budget put forward by the Conservative government.  The critique was written by Lisa Gue, Environmental Health Policy Analyst, for the David Suzuki Foundation website (link to the original post).

Although I’ve addressed some of the proposed changes in previous post, the following letter does an excellent job summarizing all the changes and addressing their implications.

I’d like to propose an amendment to Bill C-38, the legislation introduced in Parliament on April 26 to implement measures announced in last month’s budget. I realize the government is unlikely to accept any substantive changes to the 400-page bill, but could we at least change the title? Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act doesn’t convey what the legislation is intended to do. This bill should be called An Act to Unravel Canada’s Environmental Laws.

The casualties of Bill C-38 include the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Fisheries Act, Species at Risk Act, National Roundtable on Energy and the Environment Act, and Kyoto Implementation Act. Changes to these cornerstone environmental laws don’t belong in a budget bill. Cramming them into C-38 avoids the scrutiny of parliamentary committees, while the lack of consultation with key stakeholders prior to making such sweeping changes to law ensures a poor result that will receive even poorer support.

As expected, changes include narrowing the scope of federal environmental assessments and allowing provincial assessments to substitute for federal review. The government will also be able to restrict participation in environmental reviews to those deemed to be directly affected or who have “relevant information or expertise.” This is particularly worrying given the government’s recent efforts to dismiss information and expertise of opponents to pipeline projects simply on the basis that they oppose the project.

Changes to the Fisheries Act put a wide range of lakes, rivers and wetlands at risk nationwide by limiting protection only to fish habitat that supports a defined and existing fishery. The previous Fisheries Act, although far from perfect, protected not only fish, but ultimately our water, too. Changes to both the Fisheries Act and Species at Risk Act put far more power into the hands of the federal cabinet and industry-focused regulators, such as the National Energy Board. The result? Major developments will be fast-tracked with less information about and scrutiny of their environmental and economic impacts.

And as everybody knows, when the impacts are felt, we will pay a much higher price than we would for more thorough assessments at the outset.

Bill C-38 also terminates the appointments of members of the National Roundtable on Environment and Economy, whose stated purpose over the past 20 years has been “to play the role of catalyst in identifying, explaining and promoting, in all sectors of Canadian society and in all regions of Canada, principles and practices of sustainable development.” It is darkly ironic that this independent agency is being dismantled just as the United Nations prepares to mark the anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit on Sustainable Development that inspired its formation. Governments from around the world will reconvene in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this June under the theme, “The Future We Want”.

Sadly, Canada is moving in the opposite direction, and Bill C-38 will not help realize the sustainable future Canadians want.

Sign the petition to save Canada’s environmental laws at http://www.envirolawsmatter.ca/.

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