C-38: read it and split

Elizabeth May reviews the budget bill.

I went over to one Conservative MP to inquire where he found the equivalency provisions and he pointed to the bill’s summary —  not a legislatively operative section. True, the summary section claims the processes must be equivalent, but the bill itself falls short of that or any other objective criteria. The provisions allowing for a provincial government to sign an agreement to substitute the federal environmental review with a provincial review are a strange combination of discretionary and mandatory language. 

Discretionary: “If the Minister is of the opinion that a process for assessing the environmental effects of designated projects that is followed by the government of a province…that has the powers, duties or functions in relation to an assessment of the environmental effects of a designated process would be an appropriate substitute (mandatory) the Minister must, on request of the province approve the substitution.” (Section 32, on page 51 of C-38.)

What would make the minister think it was “appropriate”?  “Appropriate” is not defined.  Maybe Environment Canada is short of cash?  Maybe the province is looking for a major development and wants it rubber-stamped quickly?  There is nothing to rule out an exercise of discretion without any ability to justify it as “equivalent.” Once the Minister has reached that conclusion and a province requests a substitution, there is a mandatory duty to pass over the federal role to the province.

In QP yesterday afternoon, Scott Brison asked the government to hold itself to the standards of the Senate.

Mr. Speaker, the budget bill completely rewrites Canada’s environment laws. In the Senate, Liberals asked that the bill be split up so that the relevant Senate committee could study it. The government actually agreed. Since the Conservatives agreed to break up the bloated bill for Senate committee study, why not the same for the elected House? Even better, and following the same logic, why will the Conservatives not break up the bill into separate pieces of legislation so we can not only study individually at committee but we can actually vote on each part? Why will the Conservative members of Parliament not do their job? Why will they not allow the members of Parliament on the other side to do their job?

The government’s initial reaction yesterday to the NDP’s proposal was fairly dismissive. But perhaps today’s meeting and yesterday’s development in the Senate suggest some chance for negotiation.