Although Canada’s Conservative Party won only 40% of the popular vote in the last election, it captured an absolute majority of the seats in the House of Commons. This gives Prime Minister Stephen Harper the ability to pass any legislation he wishes – the opposition parties don’t have enough votes to stop him, and no member of the ruling party dares vote against the leader’s wishes.
Harper is now using that power to force through Bill C-38, the bizarrely titled Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act. Ostensibly a bill to implement provisions of the 2012 federal budget, it is actually a massive collection of changes to a wide range of existing laws. Putting them all in one Bill allows Harper to minimize public debate and scrutiny.
Bill C-38 will have a particularly negative impact on environmental protections. Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, prepared this list of the environmental laws that will be repealed or changed:
- Canadian Environmental Assessment Act ditched. Repealed and replaced with a completely new act. “Environmental effects” under the new CEAA will be limited to effects on fish, aquatic species under the Species at Risk Act, migratory birds. A broader view of impacts is limited to federal lands, Aboriginal peoples, and changes to the environment “directly linked or necessarily incidental” to federal approval.
- Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency seriously weakened. The agency will have 45 days after receiving an application to decide if an assessment is required. Environmental assessments are no longer required for projects involving federal money. The minister is given wide discretion to decide. New “substitution” rules allow Ottawa to download EAs to the provinces; “comprehensive” studies are eliminated. Cabinet will be able to over-rule decisions. A retroactive section sets the clock at July 2010 for existing projects.
- Canadian Environmental Protection Act undercut. The present one-year limit to permits for disposing waste at sea can now be renewed four times. The three and five-year time limits protecting species at risk from industrial harm will now be open-ended.
- Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act killed. This legislation, which required government accountability and results reporting on climate change policies, is being repealed.
- Fisheries Act seriously weakened. Fish habitat provisions will be changed to protect only fish of “commercial, Aboriginal, and recreational” value and even those habitat protections are weakened. The new provisions create an incentive to drain a lake and kill all the fish, if not in a fishery, in order to fill a dry hole with mining tailings.
- Navigable Waters Protection Act hampered. Pipelines and power lines will be exempt from the provisions of this act. Also, the National Energy Board absorbs the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) whenever a pipeline crosses navigable waters. The NWPA is amended to say a pipeline is not a “work” within that act.
- Energy Board Act neutered. National Energy Board reviews will be limited to two years – and then its decisions can be reversed by the cabinet, including the present Northern Gateway Pipeline review.
- Species at Risk Act hamstrung. This is being amended to exempt the National Energy Board from having to impose conditions to protect critical habitat on projects it approves. Also, companies won’t have to renew permits on projects threatening critical habitat.
- Parks Canada Agency Act trimmed, staff cut. Reporting requirements are being reduced, including the annual report. Six hundred and thirty-eight of the nearly 3,000 Parks Canada workers will be cut. Environmental monitoring and ecological restoration in the Gulf Islands National Park are being cut.
- Canadian Oil and Gas Operations Act made more industry friendly. This will be changed to exempt pipelines from the Navigational Waters Act.
- Coasting Trade Act made more offshore drilling friendly. This will be changed to promote seismic testing allowing increased off-shore drilling.
- Nuclear Safety Control Act undermined. Environmental assessments will be moved to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which is a licensing body not an assessing body – so there is a built-in conflict.
- Canada Seeds Act inspections privatized. This is being revamped so the job of inspecting seed crops is transferred from Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors to “authorized service providers,” the private sector.
- Agriculture affected. Under the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act, publicly owned grasslands have acted as community pastures under federal management, leasing grazing rights to farmers so they could devote their good land to crops, not livestock. This will end. Also, the Centre for Plant Health in Sidney, B.C., an important site for quarantine and virus-testing on plant stock strategically located across the Salish Sea to protect B.C.’s primary agricultural regions, will be moved to the heart of B.C.’s fruit and wine industries.
- National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy killed. The NRTEE brought industry leaders, environmentalists, First Nations, labour, and policy makers together to provide non-partisan research and advice on federal policies. Its demise will leave a policy vacuum in relation to Canada’s economic development.
- More attacks on environmental groups funded. The charities sections now preclude gifts which may result in political activity. The $8 million new money to harass charities is unjustified.
- Water programs cut. Environment Canada is cutting several water-related programs and others will be cut severely, including some aimed at promoting or monitoring water-use efficiency.
- Wastewater survey cut. The Municipal Water and Wastewater Survey, the only national study of water consumption habits, is being cut after being in place since 1983.
- Monitoring effluent cut. Environment Canada’s Environmental Effects Monitoring Program, a systematic method for measuring the quality of effluent discharge, including from mines and pulp mills, will be cut by 20 per cent.
May justly calls C-38 the Environmental Destruction Act.
But Harper has fans in the oil industry. His environmental agenda has been enthusiastically hailed by the Institute for Energy Research, a right-wing, Washington-based lobby group funded by Koch Industries and other oil companies. The IER says the U.S. government should learn from Harper:
“The United States should start taking lessons from Canada regarding oil development and its relationship to a pro-growth regulatory and tax structure. Canadian production of oil sands in northern Alberta is expected to reach 4.1 million barrels a day by 2020, up from last year’s production level of 1.6 million barrels per day. This area in Canada is the world’s third largest crude oil resource. Unlike the United States, Canada’s budget treats its energy resources as assets that should be used for the public good. ….
“Canada believes less regulation, less taxes, and less debt will boost its economy, while the United States is doing just the opposite with little progress towards a better economy.”
More accurately, Maurice Strong, the Canadian diplomat who was secretary-general of the famous 1992 Earth Summit, calls Harper’s government, “the most anti-environmental government that we’ve ever had, and one of the most anti-environmental governments in the world.”