Not as environmentally friendly as you think
Leaked legislation indicates harmful projects might have an easier time in Canada
A leaked government memo spells bad news for Canada’s environmental assessment procedures, activists claim.
The federal New Democratic Party has reported a leaked Conservative Party of Canada memo showing the government’s plan to draft a bill to weaken the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA).
But the Conservatives are denying any such plans, said Dan McNaughton, director of the prairie branch of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
“While the government continually strives to maintain environmental standards and assessment, no bill changing the Environment Assessment Act has been submitted to the House of Commons,” he said.
The law, originally passed by the 1992 Mulroney government, requires all construction or operation projects to pass a regulated environmental assessment before any permanent work can be started.
The proposed changes will exempt all projects under $10 million from this federal procedure in an effort to stimulate infrastructure growth. The projects would still undergo a provincial environmental assessment.
Rumours of the changes have drawn pre-emptive responses from many environmental groups.
“Federal laws ensuring development projects are environmentally sustainable must not be gutted in a rush to get shovels in the ground,” Jim Hazell, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, wrote in a recent press release.
Hazell was director of legislative and regulatory affairs in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency under Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien.
The proposed changes won’t bring many changes to Manitoban investors.
The Manitoba-Canada Agreement on Environmental Assessment Cooperation, the first of its kind in Canada, allows the provincial assessment to pass for both layers of government—provided the assessment meets the requirements of both.
“The majority of cases are handled concurrently, while we work with the [provincial] office to provide support and training for the assessments,” McNaughton said.
Projects that had concurrent assessments include highway work, changes to the Red River Floodway and the proposed Wuskwatim Dam.
A Green party press release quoted Elizabeth May, leader of the Green party, as saying federal legislation needs to be strengthened, not weakened, by introducing more independent study.
As it stands, May claimed environmental assessments are mostly carried out by government supporters of the proposed project. This often leads to reports that downplay environmental risks.
“It’s a little like leaving the fox in charge of the henhouse,” May stated in the press release.
“However, the legislation plays an important role and the parts that are working must be upheld.”
The federal government welcomes any questions of the rumoured changes.
“These practices can be complex for those who are not immersed in them, but the office is open to all parties who want more information, especially the general public,” McNaughton said.
Also on the leaked draft were proposed changes to the Navigable Waters Act, which regulates many damming and bridge-building projects. For more information on this Act and its effects see www.ispeakforcanadianrivers.ca.
Published in Volume 63, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 12, 2009)