Bill C-69—a dagger pointed straight at Alberta

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Appeared in the Calgary Sun, October 24, 2018
Bill C-69—a dagger pointed straight at Alberta

When testifying to the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, Ross McKitrick, University of Guelph professor and Fraser Institute senior fellow, noted the many failings of Bill C-69, currently under review in the Senate, which would replace the National Energy Board (NEB) with a new assessment agency, changing how major resource projects (including pipelines) are reviewed in Canada.

McKitrick identified three main problems with Bill C-69.

First, the bill proposes vague new regulatory requirements for a project’s impact on “sustainability,” a notoriously ill-defined concept. Without meaningful definitions, “sustainability” remains a vague and slippery concept to be determined politically rather than scientifically. Bill C-69 also requires analysis of impacts on “the intersection of sex and gender.”

McKitrick further observed that Bill C-69—which the Trudeau government says will help restore public confidence in the regulation of major energy projects (confidence the government feels was lost by the NEB in its analysis and approval of several pipeline projects)—will not achieve this goal because the problem with previous assessments wasn’t a poor process, it was government’s failure to enforce its laws.

According to McKitrick, it’s currently unclear “the government will uphold the law and ensure that when applicants receive approval, construction can proceed unobstructed.” And the government must take legal action against protestors (and there will likely be more of them, as Bill C-69 gives standing to more people, including those far removed from the proposed project, and multinational groups ideologically opposed to Canadian resource development).

Without government guarantees of project completion (if projects pass engineering and science-based analysis), McKitrick said “we will have given an effective veto on future resource development to those most willing to shout the loudest and flout the rules.”

McKitrick’s last problem with Bill C-69 is that the legislation cerates ambiguity about what information will be “dispositive” in review panel decisions. And that review committees must account for “any” scientific information and consider Indigenous knowledge.

Both of these are slippery slopes. By requiring “any” scientific information, the door is thrown wide to studies of dubious quality including studies that are not repeatable, a problem in the world of science that’s attracting increased scrutiny. As the BBC reports, “Science is facing a ‘reproducibility crisis’ where more than two-thirds of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist's experiments.”

And that’s in the hard sciences. The situation is much worse in the social sciences, and that literature will surely play a part in determining “social impacts” of energy projects on women, Aboriginals and other vulnerable populations. A study in Nature magazine looked at 21 social studies in 2018 and found that only 67 per cent could be replicated by other researchers.

And what about the requirements that regulators must consider Indigenous knowledge as akin to scientific knowledge? With all due respect to our Indigenous people and their undoubtedly great store of wisdom, in reality, this wisdom could never be replicated or balanced against scientific data because it’s basically historical evidence from preliterate times, passed on as oral tradition and not subject to the scientific method of validation.

Clearly, despite good intentions, Bill C-69 is a dagger pointed directly at Alberta’s energy sector and the province’s ability to build new energy projects and gain access to markets beyond the United States. Under the proposed environmental assessment rules, we may not see any of that happen again for a long time.