Senate committee in Vancouver on Bill C-69

The Canadian Senate’s standing committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources was in Vancouver Monday April 8 to hear from British Columbians on the Trudeau government’s Bill C-69, which will fundamentally change the way resource projects are reviewed and approved.

B.C. senator Richard Neufeld, a former B.C. Liberal MLA and former Energy and Mines minister, sits on the committee. He told Business in Vancouver that the committee is hearing a lot of calls for amendments to Bill C-69.

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The Government of Alberta and many industry associations and business groups warn that the new bill will worsen an already negative investment sentiment in Canada.

“Basically, every business, chamber of commerce, every organization that represents, not just industry, but people that work in the industry around the provinces, all say that if you put this into place, it’s going to be really negative for development in Western Canada for our oil and gas resources, or our mining resources,” Neufeld said.

Environmental groups generally support the new bill, Neufeld said, though even they have made recommendations for tweaking the bill. And tweaking may be the most that the Senate may be able to accomplish, Neufeld said.

He does not believe the Senate will recommend scrapping the bill outright, as has been suggested by Suits and Boots, a group of pro-business leaders opposed to the bill.

“Scrapping it would mean that you’d have to vote it down in the Senate, and I don’t think that’s ever going to happen because the ISG has most of the members there,” he said, referring to the Independent Senators Group.

That group of 54 Senators are nominally independent, but were appointed by the Justin Trudeau government.

“The ISG has the most senators there, and they were all appointed by Trudeau, and their record is 93% voting for government legislation, so the ability to be able to scrap something is probably slim,” Neufeld said.

Bill C-69 will scrap the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) and agency, replacing it with the new Impact Assessment Act and agency. It will also replace the National Energy Board (NEB) with a new regulator called the Canadian Energy Regulator.

The C.D. Howe Institute recently published a report that points to $100 billion in energy projects that were killed, cancelled or stalled in just a two-year time frame, due to regulatory sclerosis.

It warned that Bill C-69 may make Canada’s regulatory regime even more bureaucratic and slow, despite the insistence of Environment Minister Catherine McKenna that the new regime will actually speed things up and add certainty to a process that has resulted in numerous legal challenges to NEB decisions, especially on pipelines.

Under the new rules, the energy regulator would no longer have the authority to conduct environmental reviews on pipelines and other resource projects.

Despite vocal opposition to Bill C-69 by Alberta politicians, both NDP and Conservative, and by many business groups, Neufeld said Bill C-69 may not be on the radar screens of most Canadians. He’s therefore not sure that it will be a major election issue in the fall.

Any amendments to Bill C-69 must be voted on by the Senate committee and then either approved or rejected by the Senate before it goes back to the House of Commons for ratification. While that is supposed to happen this summer, there is some question whether the new acts and regulators will be in place before the next federal election in October.

“I would say the present government is going to be consumed with trying to get elected again,” Neufeld said.

Neufeld said industry and business groups are hoping that the bill will at least get some major amendments before it is passed into law.

“A lot of them are saying if there’s half a dozen major things are changed, they could accept the bill and work with it,” he said.

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