Today is the last day for ENGOs to submit comments on the Project List Regulations, a list found in one of three regulations that stem from the new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). The three regulations are the Cost Recovery Regulations, the Prescribed Information for a Description of a Designated Project Regulations, and the Regulations Designating Physical Activities. The federal government introduced an omnibus budget bill (Bill C-38) in March which amended up to 70 different pieces of legislation without public scrutiny. Bill C-38 gutted the Fisheries Act. It also repealed and replaced the former CEAA with one that significantly reduces the number and scope of environmental assessments and severely limits public participation in assessments involving review panels. Inclusion of legislative amendments in a budget bill precludes changes from being publicly debated. Many groups and individuals were outraged at this undemocratic move by the Conservative government and warned of the serious environmental implications including Sierra Club, Mining Watch, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, Ecojustice and prominent Canadians such as David Suzuki and leader of the Green Party Elizabeth May. This also led to the Black Out Speak Out campaign, created to bring attention to the silencing of voices that speak out for the protection of our natural environment.

“Consultation” process is a hollow exercise

Although the invitation for feedback on the Project List Regulations is being called a “consultation” process, there is no information on the websites for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency or even the Canada Gazette about this process. I found this puzzling so I called the Agency to ask where I could find this information online. An officer at the Agency confirmed that the information was not on any website and that this was not a “public consultation” per se but rather a “stakeholder consultation.” Only selected organizations were sent a letter requesting feedback. The officer at the Agency stated that this is how other organizations would learn about the “consultation” process. The letters, sent to selected ENGOs, were sent in the dead of summer and gave less than three weeks notice for an information session and less than two months to provide feedback on the Project List Regulations.

We submitted a letter but refrained from providing input on the Project List Regulations. We called on the federal government to scrap this process and begin genuine public consultation on the repeal and replacement of the CEAA. We refrained from providing any input as the “consultation” process is simply a hollow exercise until the new CEAA and its regulations are opened up to the public for debate.

The new CEAA is a complete overhaul of the former CEAA. These changes were explicitly made to grease the environmental approval process for industry. Here are some of our concerns.

Abandoning projects that need environmental assessments

As noted by Sierra Club, the “trigger’-based approach” to determining whether a CEAA review is required is being  replaced with a project list approach set out in the Regulations Designating Physical Activities. The Minister of Environment will also have the power to require a CEAA assessment for non-listed projects.
This list-approach would exempt projects that could have serious environmental implications. Post Media News just reported yesterday that 3000 EAs will be cancelled because of the overhaul of the CEAA. The new CEAA would exempt nearly 500 projects from a federal environmental assessment in British Columbia alone.  The first ‘victim’ of Bill C-38 is Bruce Power’s nuke shipment. Late last week Sierra Club Canada and the Canadian Environmental Law Association announced that they were withdrawing their applications for judicial review of permits which allowed Bruce Power to ship nuclear waste to Sweden. Under the new CEAA, Bruce Power’s plan would not trigger an environmental assessment as it would have under the old Act. Communities and organizations will now have to take up the responsibility of protecting the environment into their own hands.

Shutting out public participation

The opportunity for public participation in panel reviews has significantly been changed under the new CEAA. As noted by the Library of Parliament, “while the public at large will still be permitted to submit written comments regarding a project, only “interested parties” will be permitted to participate at hearings. This will, essentially, restrict participation at hearings to those types of parties who currently participate as intervenors, while eliminating the right that currently exists for members of the public (broadly speaking) to make 10-minute oral statements to voice their concerns. Similarly, for pipelines, only “interested parties” will be given an opportunity to participate in the assessment.”

Interested parties are defined as a person who either “is directly affected by the carrying out of the project” or “has relevant information or expertise.” Rather than inviting members of the public to hearings, the federal government will be able to limit or exclude organizations or individuals at their discretion. This shuts down public debate and shuts out legitimate concerns from environmental organizations, community members or other members of the public that Stephen Harper deems as “radicals.”

Cost recovery model threatens public accountability

Section 59 of the new CEAA sets up a cost recovery model where proponents of projects are obligated to pay the costs associated with an environmental assessment. This shift to a proponent-led process is particularly troubling.  This raises serious concerns about public accountability as well as the neutrality or objectivity of assessments.

Restricting scope compromises assessments

The new CEAA limits the scope of environmental assessments by reducing the factors examined to areas of federal jurisdiction such as: fish, aquatic species under the Species at Risk Act, migratory birds, federal lands, Aboriginals, and changes to the environment that are “directly linked or necessarily incidental” to a federal approval. Ecojustice has warned that reducing the number of factors required in EAs compromise the value of any analysis. They have stated that: “For the projects that are subject to an environmental assessment, assessing the impacts of a project on renewable resources will no longer be required, even though it is an important indicator of whether we are overtaxing ecosystems. The environmental effects considered will also be limited to matters of federal jurisdiction, such as fish, aquatic species-at-risk, migratory birds, projects onfederal lands and affects on Aboriginal people. Overall, the removal of this important factor from environmental assessment under CEAA 2012 could severely constrain the ability to evaluate a project from a sustainable development perspective.”

People in Canada are seeing an unprecedented assault on our water sources, forests, clean air, public health and democracy through budget cuts and legislative changes. Thankfully, we are seeing an equally unprecedented response from people in Canada who are willing to take water and environmental protection into their own hands and finding other avenues to keep democracy alive in Canada.

Emma Lui - Fraser River

Emma Lui

Emma Lui is an activist, writer and researcher. She is a contributing editor with and a member of Cooperative Biblioterre. Emma is also the holistic health director for the Canadian Women...