Peace and Environment News, January–March 2013
by Mike Buckthought
On December 14, the Senate passed another omnibus bill, Bill C-45. The omnibus bills C-38 and C-45 have seriously weakened Canada’s key environmental laws. By bundling so many amendments in two massive bills, the Harper government avoided any meaningful debate in the House of Commons. The omnibus bills made far-reaching changes to environmental legislation, including the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
- Bill C-38 repealed the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, which was passed in 2007 to ensure that Canada would implement a climate plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On December 12, 2011, Environment Minister Peter Kent announced that Canada would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol.
- Bill C-45 made substantial changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA). It is now known as the Navigation Protection Act. The bodies of water that are covered by the legislation are listed in Schedule 2 of the bill. The list includes 97 lakes, 55 rivers, six canals and the oceans. The vast majority of Canada’s lakes and rivers are not protected by the weakened legislation.
- Bill C-38 gutted the Fisheries Act, by removing protection for fish habitat and allowing the Fisheries Minister to authorize water pollution. The Minister is given extensive powers to introduce regulations “authorizing the deposit of deleterious substances.” These regulations may specify the toxic substances to be released, and the bodies of water that may be harmed. If one lake is not large enough to hold the toxic tailings from a mine, it is always possible for the Minister to designate “places falling within a class of waters or places.” The quantities and concentrations of toxic substances may be specified by the regulations.
- Bill C-38 repealed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). This was one of Canada’s key environmental laws. Under the CEAA, environmental assessments evaluated the long-term health and environmental impacts of proposed projects. Harmful impacts were identified, and alternatives could be recommended. Three levels of assessments could be conducted: screenings, comprehensive studies or review panels.
- The CEAA was replaced by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012). Federal environmental assessments are no longer required if there is a provincial process in place. At first glance, this appears to be a way to avoid duplication. In reality, it will clear the way for the approval of harmful industrial projects. The less stringent provincial reviews will not consider the complete range of environmental impacts.
- There will be a dramatic drop in the number of environmental assessments. Under the old legislation, assessments were triggered if certain pre-conditions were met. Under the new legislation, most projects will no longer require a federal assessment. Assessments will be required if a project is included in a designated project list. The list was hastily established using “recycled” regulations, without any opportunities for public comment.
- CEAA 2012 provides short time limits for the completion of an environmental assessment. An assessment must be completed within 365 days, or 24 months if it is referred to a review panel. The imposition of mandatory time limits threatens the environmental assessment process. With a compressed timeline, there will be fewer opportunities for the public to be involved. There will also be limited opportunities for researchers to collect the scientific data needed to adequately assess a project.
- Public participation in some environmental reviews may be limited, because of new requirements that participants must be “directly affected” by a project. This could limit opposition to energy projects, especially in remote areas that are sparsely populated. With this restriction in place, someone who happens to live in Ottawa or Vancouver might not be allowed to comment on a proposed pipeline in northern British Columbia.
- Bill C-45 created the Bridge to Strengthen Trade Act. No environmental assessment will be required for the new international bridge linking Windsor and Detroit. The project is also exempt from any obligations under the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act and the Navigation Protection Act.
To learn more about recent changes to Canada’s environmental laws, visit West Coast Environmental Law (wcel.org), Save Canada’s Environmental Laws (www.envirolawsmatter.ca) or Ecojustice (www.ecojustice.ca).
Mike Buckthought writes about environmental issues.
Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 28, Number 1, January–March 2013, page 8.