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Bill C-69 Update: The Countdown Clock Continues

CELA lawyer Richard Lindgren (L) and Professor Stewart Elgie (R) prepare to testify before the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources on April 2, 2019 (credit: Kathleen Cooper)

It may lack the intense drama of Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but interested observers are closely watching the legislative progress of Bill C-69 as the current Parliamentary session winds down in the coming months.

Bill C-69 was passed by the House of Commons in June 2018, and was then referred to the Senate. If enacted before the next federal election, Bill C-69 will: 

  • repeal the existing Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012;
  • enact the Impact Assessment Act;
  • repeal the existing National Energy Board Act;
  • enact the Canadian Energy Regulator Act;
  • revise the Navigation Protection Act; and
  • amend many other federal laws, including the Access to Information Act, Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act, Canada Petroleum Resources Act, Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Act, Environmental Violations Administrative Monetary Penalties Act, Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, and Species at Risk Act.

At present, a Standing Senate Committee is studying and holding public hearings on Bill C-69. So far, most of the hearings have occurred in Ottawa, but the Committee is also travelling to nine other cities across Canada to obtain public feedback on the Bill.

In addition, the Committee has received and web-posted dozens of written briefs from individuals, groups, Indigenous communities, proponents, industry associations, regulatory bodies, governmental officials and provincial politicians.

In early April, CELA and other environmental groups testified as witnesses before the Committee. CELA also submitted a detailed brief to the Committee that identified various shortcomings in the proposed Impact Assessment Act (IAA) in Part 1 of Bill C-69.

Accordingly, CELA’s brief recommends over three dozen amendments to the IAA to help the Act achieve the federal government’s stated goal of protecting the environment and restoring public trust in the national environmental review process. CELA’s proposed amendments include:

  • inserting new provisions that set out clear rules for ensuring meaningful public participation in impact assessments of major projects;
  • deleting the Agency’s discretionary power to dispense with the need to conduct an impact assessment of individual projects that are on the designated projects list;
  • improving the early planning phase of impact assessments, and expanding the reporting duties of review panels and Agency-led assessments;
  • deleting the Minister’s authority to allow the “substitution” of other jurisdictions’ processes for the federal impact assessment process;
  • eliminating arbitrary legislated timelines for the conduct of impact assessments;
  • creating an enforceable standard to govern Ministerial and Cabinet decision-making on whether to approve/reject projects under the Act;
  • facilitating legal accountability under the Act by increased access to the Federal Court;
  • enhancing the process for evaluating the impacts of projects to be carried out on federal lands (e.g. national parks) and federally funded projects outside of Canada;
  • providing more prescriptive details on how and when regional or strategic assessments will be carried out; and
  • widening the regulation-making authority under the Act to address additional implementation matters.

To date, some Senators have expressed interest in developing appropriate amendments to Bill C-69, although the nature, scope and extent of the Senate’s potential amendments currently remain unknown.

It is anticipated that the Committee’s report on Bill C-69 will be submitted to the Senate by May 9th, and that the Senate will report the Bill back to the House of Commons (presumably with some amendments) shortly thereafter. However, there currently appears to be no fixed deadline for the Senate vote on Bill C-69.

Upon receipt of the Senate’s advice, the House of Commons will then have a time-limited opportunity to review any amendments suggested by the Senate. The federal Environment Minister recently advised the Senate that she is open to considering any necessary amendments to Bill C-69.

Therefore, by the time that the Stanley Cup is awarded in June, Canadians will have a much better sense of whether an improved version of the IAA will be enacted, or whether the legislation will die on the order paper.

Given the public interest importance of entrenching a robust impact assessment process at the federal level, CELA calls upon all Parliamentarians to not rag the puck as time runs out in this important showdown.