After the federal government announced it would be accepting half of the Senate’s recommended amendments to Bill C-69, energy ministers from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario stood firm with respect to their position on the legislation, saying the bill shouldn’t be passed unless all the amendments are accepted.
“Those amendments are a complete package,” Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said. “You start cherry-picking one of two of those amendments out, it fails.”
On Wednesday, Savage, Saskatchewan Energy Minister Bronwyn Eyre and Ontario Energy Minister Greg Rickford held a joint press conference in downtown Calgary to air their frustrations with the latest developments surrounding the bill.
The federal Liberals accepted 99 of the record 188 amendments passed by the Senate last week; 62 as they are written, and 37 overs with substantial changes.
“The fact that it required a historic number of amendments clearly indicates the deeply flawed nature of this bill from its outset,” Rickford, said.
Many of the rejected amendments came from Conservative Senators and energy stakeholders.
The ministers said those struck-down amendments would have made Bill C-69 more palatable for the resource sector.
But the federal government said it believed some would have allowed a new Impact Assessment Agency to decide not to consider the impacts on Indigenous people or climate change when assessing a project. Other changes would restrict limits on who can participate in an assessment hearing, as well as make it harder to challenge a project approval in court.
“This bill is not just about Alberta, this bill is not just about the oil and gas sector, this bill is about Canada, and whether Canada is a place that projects can get done, and whether Canada is open for business and wants to see continued investment that fuels prosperity in this country,” Savage said.
Bill C-69 overhauls how major national resource and transportation projects, such as pipelines, mines and inter-provincial highways, are assessed for their impact on things like the environment and the economy.
If the bill passes as it stands, energy experts believe the regulations muddy the waters when it comes to timelines and exactly what is required in a project review.
“This amended bill that the House has put forward falls far short of what’s needed to change and create clarity and certainty and to ensure that projects will get proposed in the future,” said Chris Bloomer, the president and CEO of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association. “There’s still a fairly big risk on the front end of these projects that you’re going to have a problem with a lot of intervention from a broad base, we need more definition of how that’s going to work.”
The federal government’s decision came just days after Alberta Premier Jason Kenney led six premiers — five conservative provincial leaders and one non-partisan territorial leader — to write to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asking him to accept all the amendments in the name of national unity.
Trudeau called it irresponsible to raise the idea of tearing the country apart just because the premiers weren’t getting everything they wanted from Ottawa.
On Wednesday, the prime minister addressed the concerns from the provinces again, saying the legislation is necessary to get energy projects built in Canada.
“The conservatives still seem to think that the way to get big projects built is to ignore Indigenous peoples and ignore environmental concerns,” Trudeau said. “That didn’t work for 10 years under Stephen Harper, and it’s certainly not going to work now.
“That’s why we we had to change the process.”
The House of Commons must debate and then vote on the government motion responding to the Senate amendments, but the Liberals’ majority virtually guarantees that the government will get its way. Then, the Senate gets another shot at the bill.
According to Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, it’s rare for the Senate to block legislation from the House of Commons, but it could create a tense situation with a tight deadline ahead of the fall federal election.
“The Senate often will make revisions, but occasionally, they will block something,” he said. “So we’ll have to wait and see where this goes now.
“As important as this is around environmental assessment, it’s also a very interesting institutional case between the House of Commons and the Senate.”
If the bill becomes law in its current form, Savage said Alberta will move forward with a constitutional challenge.
Rickford and Eyre said their provinces would stand with Alberta in the fight against Bill C-69, but didn’t say whether or not their provinces would join in on a court challenge.
“Ontario believes that a good part of its prosperity, particularly as it comes to dynamic energy supply — and that includes Alberta — so the stakes are high,” Rickford said. “We share Alberta’s concerns and we’re certainly in a position to support any steps they might take.”