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A glimmer of hope for natural resource development

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A glimmer of hope for natural resource development

As we have written before, Bill C-69, a bill to ostensibly improve the rigour of decision-making and streamline the regulatory review process for large energy projects (including pipelines) is deeply flawed.

The bill, which is currently under Senate review, would lengthen the regulatory process and introduce criteria that are ill-defined and nebulous.

For example, Bill C-69 would require the consideration of “sustainability,” a notoriously slippery concept that as Humpty Dumpty might say, means exactly what opponents of pipelines and the oilsands say it means, which is “No.”

The bill also mandates taking account of Indigenous knowledge and considering social and “gender” impacts of proposed projects.

But there’s a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Jesse Snyder, writing in the National Post, reports that the Senate will take up a package of some 70 proposed amendments to the bill that would fix many of the reported flaws. The proposed changes aim to”

“…shave timelines for new resource projects, limit the scope of ministerial powers and make economic considerations a higher priority when determining whether a major project gets built.”

Snyder further observes that some of the proposed revisions to C-69 would diffuse the power of the environment minister (currently the post that would have decision-making authority after a review of a proposed project) to ensure that the federal finance minister and the minister of natural resources must also grant approval in writing. Snyder argues that the latter two ministries, particularly the energy ministry, are “typically more industry-friendly.”

Other possible amendments include:

  • Limit the environment minister’s ability to subject certain proposals to federal reviews.
  • Change review criterion from “must consider” to “may consider.”
  • Widen the range of economic considerations used in evaluating proposed projects.
  • Narrow the understanding of who has “standing” to speak about proposed projects at public hearings, limiting standing to people directly impacted by a proposed project, and ensure people speaking in opposition to a project have “relevant information or expertise in relation to the matter before the review panel.”

In its current form, Bill C-69 can be characterized as a BANANA law—Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything. The possible Senate reforms may significantly mitigate the damage to Canada’s natural resource sector from an ill-considered restructuring of environmental assessment. Let’s hope the Senate’s deliberations will be sober and considered, and that proposed changes are also accepted in the House of Commons and by the prime minister. Otherwise, Canada’s natural resource travails may have just begun.

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