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Senate must ensure Bill C-69 passes while hearing from all sides, environmental lawyers say

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

VANCOUVER, BC, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Territories - The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources voted unanimously yesterday to travel to select regions in Canada during its study of Bill C-69, which introduces important measures to improve federal environmental reviews.

The Senate Committee’s motion involves travelling to Atlantic Canada, Quebec and western Canada, though the details and specific locations are not yet clear. Now that the Committee has decided on this tour, lawyers at West Coast Environmental Law say it’s critical for Senators to hear from British Columbians as part of the process.

“Social justice and a respect for Indigenous rights should be at the forefront of the Senate’s decisions on which communities to visit,” said Anna Johnston, Staff Lawyer. “There has been a small but very vocal group of opponents to the bill, but it is the people on the frontlines of resource development – people whose water and air are affected – who need to be heard.”

British Columbia has more federal environmental assessments than any province in Canada, with 21 assessments currently underway, compared to seven in Alberta. BC just passed a new provincial environmental assessment law last fall that contains many features of the federal Bill C-69, which means stronger alignment between federal and BC processes once the bill is passed.

West Coast lawyers note that extensive consultation has already been conducted on environmental assessment reform by the federal government, including cross-country hearings by an independent panel, public comment periods and witness testimony before Parliamentary committees by a broad cross-section of groups. This previous consultation has demonstrated broad support for the types of measures contained in the new Impact Assessment Act introduced by Bill C-69.

“Hearing from Canadians affected by the weak, status quo rules is a good thing,” said Johnston. “In fact, a key purpose of Bill C-69 is to give the public and Indigenous peoples more say in matters that affect them. But the clock is ticking and the Senate must make sure that it balances the need for engagement with the equally pressing need to get this Bill passed.”

Calls for the Senate Committee to travel have mostly come from opponents of the Bill, who look to this as a tactic to delay and ultimately kill the bill.

“There has been major pushback against Bill C-69 from the oil and gas industry, who do not want to play by the same rules as everyone else,” Johnston said. “They helped write the current broken laws, and now they’re trying to kill the fix. These reforms were a key platform promise of the current federal government, but if the bill does not pass before the next election, it dies.”

In addition to travelling to communities, the Senate Committee is able to invite witnesses to travel to hearings in Ottawa or appear by videoconference.

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For more information, please contact:

Anna Johnston | Staff Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law Association
604-340-2304, ajohnston@wcel.org (in Ottawa)