You didn't have to read the novel A Tale of Two Cities to be familiar with the lines, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness." Enter the federal government's efforts to get oil to tidewater, develop our natural resources responsibly, and ensure confidence in Canada's energy industry by purchasing the $4.5-billion Trans Mountain pipeline project while simultaneously proposing legislation aimed at improving environmental-impact assessment and protection standards.
Canadians' perspectives resemble this Dickensian duality. According to a recent Angus Reid Institute poll, 58% of Canadians overall (including 87% of Albertans and 74% of Saskatchewanians) believe that the lack of oil pipelines in Canada is a national crisis.
Angus Reid also reported that 75% of Canadians believe climate change is a "very serious" or "serious" threat to the planet, and 66% believe it is caused by vehicle emissions and industrial facilities.
I remain optimistic we can reach consensus on these seemingly opposing points of view through Bill C‑69, Impact Assessment Act.
The current assessment process under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act introduced by the federal government in 2012 does not work, as demonstrated by the Federal Court of Appeal decision to block the Trans Mountain project on August 30, 2018.
The justices found that the National Energy Board and proponent failed to include the adverse impact oil tankers could have on ocean and marine life in their definition of the project. Further, the proponent fell well short of meaningful consultation with affected Indigenous communities. The court decision also said that the assessment failed to recognize potential negative effects on the livelihoods of coastal Indigenous communities dependent on healthy fish stocks and marine environments.
This was inevitable, given the inherent flaws of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012.
The opportunities I see in C-69 are those aimed at improving the faulty assessment process in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012 by replacing it with the Impact Assessment Act, which the government envisions as a "one project, one review" process to limit the duplication of assessments across jurisdictions. Impact assessments would focus not only on the "negative" effects of a project but also consider potential "positive" economic, social and environmental outcomes.
In addition, the bill would reduce political interference by preventing the federal cabinet from overturning a "no" decision on a project while allowing for an unsuccessful project to be reconsidered. Businesses would benefit from a reduction of the integrated review from 18 months to 300 days, plus the introduction of a 180-day early pre-assessment planning timeline to flag any negative impacts from proposed projects to allow for improvements before moving forward to a maximum 600 days of review.
Finally, the legislation and regulations will ensure full participation of Indigenous communities in project reviews, ensuring meaningful consultation with band councils regarding proposed projects impacting community and reserve land.
The reality is this: We are all reliant on oil and prosper as an oil-producing nation. In 2017 our three landlocked western provinces produced 95% of Canada's crude oil resources, which sustained 276,000 direct and 624,000 indirect jobs while contributing 11% to our nominal GDP. The lack of pipelines blocks our oil, keeping it from western tidewater for export and Canada's eastern market. Not to mention, the lack of pipelines raises concerns for many regarding the potential risks associated with the alternative form of transporting crude oil—freight trains.
C-69 is now before the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, which will thoroughly study the diverse perspectives of experts and stakeholders. The findings and recommendations in the committee's report will be debated at third reading in the Senate. Through good faith co-operation we will improve and strengthen this legislation.
As Dickens penned: "We had everything before us, we had nothing before us." Working together, Canada has everything to gain.
Senator Marty Klyne represents Saskatchewan in the Senate.
This article appeared in the February 13, 2019, edition of The Regina Leader Post.