14 Jul Feds gut environmental assessment (again). Public in the dark (again).
Feds gut environmental assessment (again).
Public in the dark (again).
By Adam Driedzic
Staff Counsel, Environmental Law Centre
You don’t have to be an environmentalist to be concerned with this one. For the second straight year, the federal budget bill passed with Trojan horse provisions unrelated to the budget. The perennial target is the federal environmental assessment regime, but the real victim is the public.
Last year the Environment Minister received power to exempt impacts on navigable waters from assessment. This year’s Bill C-9 provides the Minister with discretion to determine the scope of any assessment. The change directly counters a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling against splitting up large industrial projects to avoid comprehensive study. The bill also heads off a pending challenge to the exemption of infrastructure projects from assessment.
The style of law-making exemplified by Bill C-9, the avoidance of court cases, and the downsizing of federal environmental assessment all share one feature: an exclusion of the public from decision-making on matters of public interest. The changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act are an exceptionally striking example because that Act already required a periodic review. The current review began while Bill C-9 was with the Senate.
Concentrated opposition from public interest organizations and a recommendation by the Senate’s Finance Committee to remove the contentious sections were not enough. On the eve of summer vacation the Senate voted to pass Bill C-9 in its entirety.
The uncertainty that Bill C-9 creates around the future of federal environmental assessment warrants a response from the actual review committee. It also demands that provinces adopt more certain assessment processes, particularly with respect to public participation.
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