The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, David Suzuki Foundation, the Pembina Institute are just some of Canada’s prominent environmental organizations that called on Canadians to speak out in defence of Canada’s values of democracy and the environment.
The BLACKOUTSPEAKOUT website states, “Our land, water, climate are all threatened by the latest federal budget. Proposed changes in the budget will weaken environmental laws and silence the voices of those who seek to defend them. Silence is not an option.”
While the government claims a balanced approach to protecting the environment and promoting economic growth, its actions are in direct opposition. Bill C-38 repeals the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, repeals the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, weakens several environmental laws, including protection for species at risk and water, and nearly eliminates fish habitat in the Fisheries Act, gives the federal cabinet authority to overrule a decision by the National Energy Board, and eliminates the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
During the subcommittee on Bill C-38 (Part 3)’s review, Ms. Rachel Forbes, Staff Counsel, West Coast Environmental Law, said that she did not believe the proposed amendments and the new legislation as currently drafted would accomplish any of the government’s four pillars – namely, more predictable and timely reviews, less duplication in reviewing projects, strong environmental protection, and enhanced consultation with Aboriginal peoples. In fact, she suggested the amendments may hinder them.
The Hon. Thomas Siddon has repeatedly voiced concerns regarding Bill C-38: “They are totally watering down and emasculating the Fisheries Act…they are making a Swiss cheese out of [it].” At the subcommittee, he reported: The bottom line … take your time and do it right. To bundle all this into a budget bill with all of its other facets, is not becoming of a Conservative government, period.” And Mr. Stephen Hazell, Senior Counsel, Ecovision Law agreed: “My recommendation is that this subcommittee remove the proposed CEAA 2012 from Bill C-38, and propose to the finance committee overall that it be referred on to the House of Commons environment and sustainability committee for its review.”
We agree, and have been calling for the environment sections of Bill C-38 to be removed, and to be sent to a legislative committee for clause-by-clause study for weeks and weeks. Canadians should not be fooled by the government`s publicity stunt — namely, to try to make it appear that it had meaningfully reviewed the bill — and the government`s counter attack of sending 10 ministers across the country to promote its plan, and remove attention from BLACKOUTSPEAKOUT.
The government should also ensure that any change to existing environmental laws and regulations be made in a manner that respects Aboriginal Peoples and treaty rights of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada that are affirmed in the Constitution. National Chief Shawn Atleo reported during subcommittee hearings that, “In its current form, Part 3 of C-38 clearly represents a derogation of established and asserted First Nations rights.” The Union of BC Indian Chiefs voiced similar concerns in an open letter to the Prime Minister, “The federal government’s unilateral and draconian approach to amending the environmental assessment process is not being quietly accepted by First Nations, environmental organizations, or the general Canadian public.”
Canadians should know that after a mere 16 hours of study, the subcommittee is left with many questions regarding the legislation: for example, what types of projects will be included/excluded under the proposed changes to CEAA? What proportion and types of current assessments will no longer receive federal oversight? How will the government define whether or not a provincial process is equivalent to the federal process, and how will assessment of cumulative impacts be undertaken? What are the projected costs of changes to the CEAA for each province and territory?
While governments worldwide are concerned with making the shift to the green economy – to stimulate growth, create new jobs, eradicate poverty and limit humanity’s ecological footprint – Canada has missed opportunities: for example, the government spent only $3 billion on green stimulus, compared with the United States, which spent $112 billion, and China, which spent $221 billion. One of Canada’s reforms must be a shift to the green economy.
Going forward, the government should: recognize that it does not face a choice between saving our economy and saving our environment, but rather between being a producer and consumer in the old economy, and being a leader in the new economy; initiate discussions with provinces, territories, municipalities, labour organizations, industry sectors, First Nations and others to develop a green economy strategy for Canada, with goals for 2015, 2020, 2025 and 2030; and ensure that its development strategy include skills development, training programs, certification courses, and transitional policies for workers and communities.
Finally, the government is waging an unprecedented war on the environment, with uncertain consequences for nature and society. As in the baseball adage, “It’s the top of the ninth.” Mr. Harper has been hitting nature hard. But nature always bats last.