Environment laws demanded

OTTAWA — If there’s one issue that unites Idle No More protesters, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and militant and moderate First Nations alike, it is the federal government’s recent changes to environmental oversight.

OTTAWA — If there’s one issue that unites Idle No More protesters, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and militant and moderate First Nations alike, it is the federal government’s recent changes to environmental oversight.

But the united stand among First Nations, grassroots and environmentalists has been met with an equally adamant federal government that appears unwilling to budge, forming the battle lines for an extended conflict.

“Our fights may be different, but our dreams and hopes for our people are common,” Spence said in a statement posted Wednesday, thanking Idle No More for bringing awareness to the new environmental laws and urging unity among First Nations.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, is not blinking.

“The government has no plans to reconsider its legislation,” the prime minister’s spokesman, Andrew MacDougall, said bluntly in an email Wednesday.

While there may be room to negotiate with Ottawa on other issues that have driven First Nations people into the streets in protest, the division over how to handle resource development and the environment is deep and entrenched.

Wednesday’s day of action included traffic disruptions and public demonstrations across the country, but remained peaceful. Some chiefs, warn of blockades if material changes aren’t made soon. And Spence’s liquids-only hunger protest persists.

At issue are two huge and complicated pieces of legislation stemming from last year’s budget, of which more efficient natural resource extraction was the centrepiece.

Bill C-38, which passed in June, completely overhauls Canada’s environmental assessment law, redefines protections for fish and gives the federal cabinet new decision-making powers on resource development.

Environmentalists and First Nations alike say the changes allow mining and energy companies to steamroll over their concerns, and rush into resource extraction without properly accounting for harm to animal habitats.

But an analysis by lawyers at Fraser Milner Casgrain says the changes also impose new responsibilities on corporations when it comes to dealing with First Nations. Plans for resource extraction will need to take into consideration any effect on aboriginal health, socio-economic conditions, physical and cultural heritage, and historical sites.

C-45, the second omnibus budget bill, received royal assent in December. It overhauls protections of waterways by dramatically changing the Navigable Waters Act, as well as changing the Fisheries Act and the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act.

“Is this the appropriate thing to do for the economy at the expense of future generations?” said Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy, protesting Wednesday along with hundreds of others alongside a northern Ontario highway, shouting to be heard over a line of transport trucks slowed by the demonstration.

“We want to have a source of clean drinking water.”

Behind the scenes, there may be some wiggle room as the federal government goes about crafting regulations on how to implement C-45. Harper and his officials indicated as much to chiefs who met with him and several cabinet ministers last week, insiders say.

“The PM did say that the law is now passed, but the regulations in many cases still need to be worked out, and that will involve consultation,” said one government official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

That’s unlikely to do much to assuage the deep concerns shared by environmentalists and First Nations, said Megan Leslie, the NDP environment critic.

“The Conservatives could certainly say we’ll add that lake or river to the (protected waters) list,” she said. “But that’s tinkering around the edges. They (chiefs and protesters) are concerned with the overall omnibus bill.”

Still, she said the Conservatives have shown that they will move on legislation if they think it’s not right. Included in C-45, for example, were two major changes to the just-passed C-38.

“I think there’s absolutely room to figure out what to do here,” Leslie said.

Companies need a solution just as much as First Nations and environmentalists, added Anna Baggio, director of conservation land use planning with CPAWS Wildlands League.

Baggio is on the front lines of proposed mining development in northern Ontario, and she sees companies working hard to get the ’social license’ they need to obtain First Nations support and go ahead with resource extraction.

If the public does not have confidence in the government’s environmental oversight, businesses will find it even more difficult to proceed, she said.

“From a big business standpoint, if the government wants ’responsible resource development’, there are things you have to put in place to be sure it is responsible.”

But even if Harper stands his ground and does not entertain changes to the two omnibus bills, First Nations have two more cards to play, Beardy said.

For one, the protest movement has only just begun and will amplify once the weather warms up, he said. His northern Ontario group was on the highway for hours Wednesday in -15 C temperatures.

“Something has to be really wrong to do that,” Beardy said.

Plus, aboriginal people still have legal rights that will likely trump the most recent federal legislation, he added, pointing to protections of aboriginal rights in the constitution.

Indeed, there is already one lawsuit, with two Alberta First Nations asking for a judicial review of the bills, claiming the federal government did not fulfil its duty to consult with First Nations before passing the legislation.

Forcing First Nations to go to court is not a sustainable response, Leslie said.

Just Posted

In this Monday, March 15, 2021 file photo a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is pictured in a pharmacy in Boulogne Billancourt, outside Paris. Questions remained Wednesday about the future of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in Canada, as Manitoba limited use of the shot and Ontario announced it planned to save an incoming shipment to use as second doses.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Christophe Ena, File
Alberta could receive 76,500 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine next week

Alberta should be getting a large shipment of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine… Continue reading

An anti-lockdown protest went ahead outside a café in central Alberta on Saturday, despite pouring rain and a pre-emptive court injunction. (Photo by The Canadian Press)
RCMP investigating whether credible online threats made against officers

Online images purportedly showing officers attending weekend rally at Mirror in rifle crosshairs

Bowden Institution Black Press file photo
Bowden Institution inmate dies from COVID-19 complications

Bowden death the sixth in Canada’s federal prison system

(Contributed)
FOUND: Police locate Red Deer missing youth

Red Deer RCMP thank the public for their assistance

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer and several members of city council helped kick off the spring Green Deer cleanup campaign on Wednesday. Veer said city workers do their best to keep the city looking good, but need volunteer help to get rid of litter that has blown into bushes onto road sides over the winter. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)
Red Deer city councillors launch spring Green Deer campaign

Volunteers are needed to keep the city looking good

Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore, center, celebrates after scoring a goal against the Columbus Crew with teammates from left, forward Tsubasa Endoh, defender Omar Gonzalez and forward Patrick Mullins during the second half of an MLS soccer match, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Bradley, Altidore scores in Toronto FC’s 2-0 win over Crew

ORLANDO, Fla (AP) — Michael Bradley had a goal and an assist,… Continue reading

A football with the CFL logo sits on a chair during a press conference in Winnipeg, Friday, November 27, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Former defensive lineman Klassen tackling retirement as he did opposing quarterbacks

Klassen spent seven CFL seasons with Montreal, Calgary and Ottawa

FILE - Contestant Lauren Spencer-Smith on an episode of ABC’s American Idol. (American Idol/ABC photo)
‘American Idol’ contestant exits show amid video controversy

A 16-year-old “American Idol” contestant has dropped out of the singing competition… Continue reading

FILE - Ellen DeGeneres appears during a taping of the “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” in Burbank, Calif. on May 24, 2016. DeGeneres, who has seen ratings hit after allegations of running a toxic workplace, has decided her upcoming season next year will be the last. It coincides with the end of her contract. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
Ellen DeGeneres to end long-running TV talk show next year

Viewership dropped by 1.1 million people this season

Ottawa Senators centre Josh Norris, right, celebrates his game-winning overtime goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs with left wing Brady Tkachuk Wednesday May 12, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Norris scored winner, Senators beat Maple Leafs 4-3 in Andersen’s return from injury

Norris scored winner, Senators beat Maple Leafs 4-3 in Andersen’s return from injury

Rafael Nadal, of Spain, holds up the trophy after beating Daniil Medvedev, of Russia, in the final at the Rogers Cup tennis tournament, in Montreal on Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Tennis Canada could move top tournaments to US if Toronto, Montreal plan not approved

Tennis Canada could move top tournaments to US if Toronto, Montreal plan not approved

Philadelphia Flyers' Travis Sanheim (6) and Brian Elliott (37) celebrate with teammates after the Flyers won an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Monday, May 10, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Puck luck? Hockey’s secrecy makes betting on NHL a gamble

Puck luck? Hockey’s secrecy makes betting on NHL a gamble

FILE - John Davidson, left, president of the New York Rangers, and Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton pose at a news conference in New York, in this Wednesday, May 22, 2019, file photo. The New York Rangers abruptly fired president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 with three games left in the season. Chris Drury was named president and GM. He previously served as associate GM under Davidson and Gorton. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
New York Rangers fire coach Dave Quinn, 3 assistants

New York Rangers fire coach Dave Quinn, 3 assistants

Most Read