En­ergy and the En­vi­ron­ment: Will Bill C-69 make a dif­fer­ence?

Policy - - Opinion - BY DALE SMITH

The Trudeau gov­ern­ment’s cen­tre­piece en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion — Bill C-69, the Im­pact As­sess­ment Act— is cur­rently un­der­go­ing de­bate. But as the gov­ern­ment pro­ceeds with its pitch that be­ing strong on the econ­omy and strong on the en­vi­ron­ment go to­gether, are busi­ness and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups ac­tu­ally sold on the pol­icy?

Anna John­ston, lawyer with West Coast En­vi­ron­men­tal Law, said that C-69 has many promis­ing el­e­ments, no­tably the fact that it brings the pub­lic and other con­stituen­cies — in­clud­ing Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties — into the di­a­logue at ear­lier stages and in­cludes a sus­tain­abil­ity test. But there re­mains a prob­lem for her.

“Ev­ery­thing is per­mis­sive in the Act, so at the end of the day we don’t know if de­ci­sions ac­tu­ally make sure that projects are go­ing to help Canada meet its Paris Agree­ment obli­ga­tions, whether they’ll con­trib­ute to sus­tain­abil­ity, or whether the pub­lic will be mean­ing­fully en­gaged as the early stage in­tents,” said John­ston. “We’re go­ing to have to wait and see.”

Rachel Cur­ran, who was an ad­vi­sor in Stephen Harper’s PMO and is now a prin­ci­pal with Harper and As­so­ciates, noted that the time­lines in the bill are po­ten­tially in­def­i­nite.

“Part of the think­ing be­hind the Harper Gov­ern­ment’s changes to the en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment rules was to at least give in­vestors a firm time­line by which they could ex­pect a de­ci­sion — not nec­es­sar­ily a pos­i­tive de­ci­sion, but a de­ci­sion,” said Cur­ran. “The new leg­is­la­tion ex­tends that time­line po­ten­tially in­def­i­nitely.”

Ja­cob Irving, pres­i­dent of the En­ergy Coun­cil of Canada, said that for the pipe­line in­dus­try in par­tic­u­lar, they feel like they are on a “ra­zor’s edge,” and are wor­ried about the fu­ture of pipe­lines in Canada. Other mem­bers of the in­dus­try are con­cerned about the time­lines and are ex­plor­ing how to make them more strin­gent and pre­dictable in order to en­cour­age in­vest­ment.

“Even in the best con­struc­tion of a reg­u­la­tory process, there are all kinds of po­ten­tial off-ramps and un­in­tended con­se­quences that could arise once you start liv­ing it,” said Irving. “That’s the same no mat­ter who you have in gov­ern­ment and how they may change a reg­u­la­tory process.”

Irving added that min­is­te­rial dis­cre­tion can also throw un­cer­tainty into the process, but it can sim­i­larly of­fer sal­va­tion to some pro­po­nents who feel that they are los­ing the process oth­er­wise.

That ques­tion of dis­cre­tion is why en­vi­ron­men­tal groups are un­happy with the bill, says Stephen Hazell, di­rec­tor of con­ser­va­tion and gen­eral coun­sel at Na­ture Canada.

“Hav­ing cer­tainty at the po­lit­i­cal level is su­per im­por­tant and we don’t have that with the bill,” says Hazell, adding that it makes it hard to judge in­ten­tions, and that while ev­ery gov­ern­ment likes to have more dis­cre­tion, the busi­ness and en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mu­ni­ties like rules.

“Im­pact as­sess­ment is about pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion for de­ci­sion mak­ers so that we can make sound de­ci­sions,” said Hazell. “The Im­pact As­sess­ment Act­that has been pro­posed is a good step.”

Bill C-69 also im­ple­ments the fed­eral cli­mate price back­stop that will be im­posed on prov­inces that don’t have their own car­bon pric­ing mech­a­nisms. For Craig Ste­wart, vice-pres­i­dent of fed­eral af­fairs with the In­sur­ance Bureau of Canada, this is es­sen­tial be­cause his in­dus­try be­lieves that in order to af­fect change, there needs to be a price on car­bon.

“We’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the ef­fects of cli­mate change now,” said Ste­wart. “Right now, Cana­dian tax­pay­ers are pay­ing bil­lions in losses from disas­ter as­sis­tance, through up­grad­ing in­fra­struc­ture be­cause es­sen­tially, we’re see­ing the ef­fects, and our in­dus­try is los­ing a bil­lion [dol­lars] a year from events we’re see­ing like the floods here in Gatineau, to the fire in Fort McMurray in 2016, and the Cal­gary and Toronto floods in 2013.”

While groups like the Cana­dian Tax­pay­ers Fed­er­a­tion es­ti­mate that Cana­dian house­holds could pay an ad­di­tional $400 to $900 per year un­der the pro­posed car­bon taxes, de­pend­ing on their elec­tric­ity provider, Ste­wart says that it’s less than they would be pay­ing in terms of other tax dol­lars to deal with cli­mate change, whether it’s mu­nic­i­pal taxes to up­grade storm wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture to deal with in­creased flood­ing or re­lo­cat­ing crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture.

“As in­sur­ers, be­cause we are suf­fer­ing bil­lions in losses right now, we have to look at how that’s go­ing to af­fect in­sur­ance poli­cies,” says Ste­wart. “The costs are here. The cost of in­ac­tion is far more than the cost of ac­tion.”

Julie Gelfand, Com­mis­sioner of the En­vi­ron­ment and Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment, noted that in her re­cent re­port on how gov­ern­ments around the country are work­ing to re­duce their green­house gas emis­sions, only Nova Sco­tia and New Brunswick were on track to meet their 2020 tar­gets, and that most gov­ern­ments are nowhere near ready to adapt to in­creased flood­ing and for­est fires and ris­ing sea lev­els.

“Cana­di­ans, there­fore, are not ready,” said Gelfand.

Gelfand added that gov­ern­ments across the country need to do more risk as­sess­ments, not­ing that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has $66 bil­lion in as­sets that are not as­sessed for cli­mate change risks.

“They should be as­sess­ing the risk and then de­vel­op­ing adap­ta­tion plans so that they are ready when these changes are go­ing to oc­cur. They are oc­cur­ring right now,” said Gelfand.

Catherine Clark, Julie Gelfand, Com­mis­sioner of the En­vi­ron­ment & Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment, Craig Ste­wart, Vice Pres­i­dent of Fed­eral Af­fairs at IBC, Stephen Hazell, Di­rec­tor of Con­ser­va­tion and Gen­eral Coun­sel at Na­ture Canada and Ja­cob Irving,...

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