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Environmental assessments: the federal bill can only “worsen the situation”

Bill C-69 tightening environmental assessments in the country creates “new bone of contention,” the Quebec environment minister says bluntly.
Benoit Charette does not go so far as to demand the withdrawal of this controversial piece of legislation, which would entrust the evaluation of projects to a new entity, the Canadian Impact Assessment Agency.

He delivered Friday the Quebec position before the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, who crisscrossed the country to collect testimony, while a dozen pro-C-69 protesters chanted slogans outside the courtroom.

According to the Quebec government, Bill C-69 can only “worsen the situation” by creating “duplication, administrative burdens and longer delays for project initiators”.

The minister pointed out that Quebec can already count on the recently inaugurated 40-year-old Bureau of Public Environmental Hearings (BAPE) and on expanded and modernized environmental legislation.

“Simplify the procedure so that we can, from all sides, ensure good environmental protection but also efficiency,” argued Charette. [Ottawa] is creating new grounds for disagreement with Bill C-69 in that it will only worsen the situation. […] For the initiator, it is really a path of the combatant imposed on him. ”

The federal procedure would undermine the principle of “a project, an evaluation” so dear to Quebec, he argued before senators. One of them, the Conservative Dennis Glen Patterson, opined that the bill was “colonialist”, which Mr. Charette carefully avoided repeating.

He stressed that most projects fall under the constitutional jurisdiction of the provinces, and that this jurisdiction must be respected. For example, projects of a local nature or those involving the exploitation of natural resources. Projects that fall primarily under federal jurisdiction are an exception, according to the minister.

“This duplication is completely preventable, without affecting the protection of the environment or public and aboriginal consultation,” he said, recalling that in the context of a Quebec assessment, developers must still obtain the necessary permits and authorizations from the federal authorities, for example under the Fisheries Act.

For her part, independent Senator Rosa Galvez indicated her preference for a law that would standardize environmental assessments in Canada. She said the quality of exams varies greatly from one province to another, and although the process in Quebec is excellent, others have already delivered licenses in 48 hours. “We can not accept that,” she said.

In a scrum after his presentation, Minister Charette said he was in favor of the piece of legislation, provided it was substantially amended. He does not wish it to be withdrawn or abandoned.

“In no way did our presentation this morning aim to delay the passage of the bill or to request its withdrawal. We want to make sure that this bill is simply enhanced, “he said.

Quebec proposes two main amendments: that Quebec regulations be respected, and that it not be subject to the federal procedure to avoid that the procedures are even more complex for the initiators. According to Benoit Charette, this is not a “Quebec exception”, since other provinces have made similar claims.

The changes proposed in Bill C-69 include the participation of the public and affected Aboriginal communities in the planning phase of a project, reducing the timeliness of evaluation – from 365 to 300 days or from 720 to 600 days depending on the size of the project – and a study of their long-term impacts on society as a whole, which would include greenhouse gas emissions.

The Senate committee plans to finalize its examination of the bill by tabling its report in the Senate on May 9, 2019.

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Amendments proposed by Quebec

1) The Government of Quebec wants the Impact Assessment Act to provide for the possibility that only the Quebec assessment procedure will apply to projects that fall primarily under provincial jurisdiction. For example, projects of a local nature or projects for the exploitation of natural resources.

According to Quebec, a double review of projects is not always necessary: ​​it becomes so only when a project falls primarily under federal jurisdiction, which is an exception. Projects in the province are, in principle, under provincial jurisdiction. The Québec government has a clear, predictable, optimized authorization system that meets the highest standards of environmental protection. It possesses both the legal and regulatory instruments, the experience and the expertise, as well as the constitutional authority necessary for the rigorous evaluation of the impacts of the projects carried out on its territory.

2) The Government of Quebec requests that the Impact Assessment Act be clear that no federal jurisdiction project carried out in part or entirely within a province’s territory can be exempted from provincial environmental laws. The fact that a proposed federal jurisdiction is subject to Canadian law can not be a valid reason for ignoring provincial environmental laws.

3) The Government of Quebec wants the Impact Assessment Act to comply with the existing land claims agreements. It considers it important that it expressly provides for the exclusion of provincial jurisdiction projects to be carried out within the territory of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and in the territory of the Northeastern Quebec Agreement. This application is intended to ensure the unique application of the environmental protection regimes provided for in these agreements for projects under provincial jurisdiction. These have proven to be effective and have been groundbreaking with respect to the participation of Aboriginal communities in the environmental assessment process.

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Alan Carter
Alan Carter
Alan Carter has been a reporter on the news desk since 2015. Before that she wrote about young adolescents and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Koz Post, Alan Carter worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella.