Last month, I raised some concerns about the omnibus budget implementation Bill C-38 and the federal government’s attack on the environmental community and Canada’s environmental laws. I want to look at some of that bill in more detail.
Prime Minister Harper and his party have said that our laws governing the environmental assessment of major mining projects (Alberta’s tar sands are mainly mining projects, not typical oil projects) must be streamlined (read gutted) to keep “Canada competitive” and to ensure that major projects go ahead without undue delay. In fact, there is absolutely no evidence that we are not “competitive” — quite the contrary. In its 2011 annual ranking of the best countries in the world for mining investment, mining consulting firm Behre Dolbehr Group rated Canada No. 2 in the world, second only to Australia. The U.S. was rated No. 6. It certainly doesn’t seem like the people in the business who know what’s going on consider us “uncompetitive”. One of the seven factors that Behre Dolbehr considered in arriving at their ranking was the length of the permitting process.
In the U.S., some major mining projects have taken in excess of seven years in the permitting process. Have the companies gone elsewhere — not on your life. As a spokeswoman for Rio Tinto (the company waiting seven years) said: “Mining companies have to go where the minerals are.” You could also say “Oil companies have to go where the tar sands are.” It wouldn’t matter if Canada had the most draconian environmental laws on the planet, the oil companies would still be lined up waiting to extract our resources. There is nowhere else to go.
In fact, under our current, supposedly uncompetitive regulations, the oil companies are literally lined up to get their hands on our oil, and make no mistake, projects are getting approved. In 1999, production from the oil (tar) sands was 300,000 barrels per day. By 2009, that figure had risen to 1.5 million barrels per day — a 500 per cent increase in 10 years. Provincial and federal approvals have already been given to raise that figure to 4.1 million barrels per day. I don’t see much sign of a bottleneck in these figures.
Another argument repeated by our MP Dan Albas to support C-38 is that our environmental laws need changing to avoid duplication in assessment of major projects. However, Postmedia recently obtained government documents that show previous changes are already preventing duplication: “Amendments made in 2010 have made the CEA (Canada Environmental Assessment) Agency responsible for most comprehensive studies; this change is yielding positive results as all agency-led comprehensive studies have started in alignment with provincial reviews, preventing process duplication,” said the presentation, dated Sept. 6, 2011 and released by Environment Canada through access to information legislation.
So two of the major arguments the Conservatives are using to gut our environmental assessment laws seem to hold no water at all. Would the oil and mining companies like less strict regulations? Did the Huns like raping and pillaging?
You can help by calling our MP, Dan Albas, at 250-770-4480 or emailing him at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca and let him know that you want C-38 broken into appropriate parts and subjected to thorough public hearings. If the proposed changes are as necessary and useful as the Conservatives say they are, why are they afraid to subject them to public assessment?
Bob Handfield is vice-president of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club but the views expressed here are his own.