OTTAWA — The head of the Mining Association of Canada says the hotly contested federal environmental assessment bill is welcome in the industry it will affect the most.
“This promises to be a better system than what we’ve had for the last seven years,” said Pierre Gratton, the president of the association.
Bill C-69 overhauls Canada’s environmental assessment regime for major national resource and transportation projects but the high-octane opposition from the oil and gas sector has drowned out much of the comment from other affected industries.
While the bill affects interprovincial pipelines, oilsands projects, offshore oil projects and oil refineries, it also applies to hydro dams, natural-gas power plants, the construction or decommissioning of military bases and airports, and most commonly, mines.
Since 2012, when the existing Canadian Environmental Assessment Act came into effect under the former Conservative government, Gratton said as many as 60 per cent of assessments have applied to mines producing things like diamonds, gold, zinc and copper.
“That cohort has felt consistently that C-69 represented an improvement on the status quo,” Gratton said.
He said that was true in 2018, when the House of Commons debated and passed the bill, and it’s true today, after the Liberal government rejected a majority of amendments proposed by the Senate.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Wednesday she would accept 62 Senate amendments as written and 37 more with some adjustments. But the rest of the amendments, including 90 per cent of those proposed by Conservative senators, are hitting the slag heap.
“We will not accept amendments that give provinces a veto over projects in federal jurisdiction,” she said. “We will not accept amendments that make it optional to consult Indigenous people.”
In addition to creating a new Impact Assessment Agency to oversee the reviews, the bill adds says reviews must consider a project’s effect on climate change and the construction effort’s impact on women to the criteria for consideration. A pre-planning design phase will be required to try to have proponents seek out and understand the concerns that will be raised and address them before making formal applications.
The government will have set timelines to make decisions within, and all decisions will have to be accompanied with explanations, including publicly reporting any of the scientific evidence used.
Conservative MPs, senators and at least six premiers are adamant this legislation will be the death knell for the oil industry, prevent any new pipelines from ever being built in Canada and send energy investors scurrying to find other countries in which to spend their money.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said late Wednesday the government is “risking the country’s economic future” by not accepting all the Senate amendments.
One of the biggest concerns is the bill’s requirement to take into account climate change.
Gratton said the oilsands and uranium segments of the mining industry remain strongly opposed to the legislation. But mineral- and metal-mining companies, which have operations across Canada, are happy with it. He said the legislation from 2012 made assessments harder for mines because provincial and federal governments couldn’t easily work together to have one single assessment, which C-69 fixes.
He said the new regime also has more flexibility for assessments to take into account the specific circumstances of different projects and also allows for federal permitting to get underway at the same time as an assessment is conducted, cutting the total time for getting a project approved.
He said the 2012 legislation did not “live up to its promise.”
“We actively pursued changes that would address the problems we encountered and we believe that the biggest ones for that cohort have been largely addressed in this bill. It’s not to say that suddenly federal environmental assessment is going to be easy. It’s still going to be onerous. But some of the real problems that were not really justifiable (are gone.)”