Penticton protesters join national chorus

Rallies organized across Canada to voice opposition to omnibus budget bill that critics say weakens environmental rules

Mark and Deborah Webb protest Bill C-38 on Saturday outside MP Dan Albas's office.

Mark and Deborah Webb protest Bill C-38 on Saturday outside MP Dan Albas's office.

Protesters in Penticton added their voices Saturday to others opposed to the content and review process of the federal Conservative government’s budget implementation bill.

The print version of Bill C-38 runs to 452 pages and contains a host of varied legislative amendments, most notably to environmental laws, including a streamlined environmental assessment process and a provision to give cabinet the final say on major pipeline projects.

“What they’re doing is dismantling social programs and the laws,” said Deborah Webb, who organized the Penticton protest, one of 45 confirmed to take place Saturday outside Conservative MPs’ offices across Canada.

It’s not just the content of Bill C-38 that has Webb and others angry, but the manner in which it’s to be enacted. Critics complain the omnibus bill is simply too large and unwieldy to be put through in one package, and should therefore be pieced out and sent to committees for proper study.

Conservatives have said Bill C-38, particularly the part to do with the environmental assessment process, is critical to keep Canada’s economic recovery rolling, but Webb disagreed.

“That’s BS. It’s not an economic recovery bill,” she said. “It’s decimating the CBC, it’s decimating the Fisheries Act, it’s decimating our environmental laws.”

Not so, said Albas.

“There is no change in our environmental regulation, per se, it’s just codifying the processes so we can come to a decision on a large project in two years,” he said in an interview Saturday.

The representative for Okanagan-Coquihalla, who was at a different community event during the protest, said the Tories have allowed for adequate scrutiny of the bill, both through an extended second-reading debate and through a finance sub-committee, and is confident the legislation is in the country’s best interests.

“We also know that given the times, given what’s happened in Spain and Greece, we are not immune from further issues… so we must take action,” he said.

Albas said he’s heard from plenty of constituents both for and against Bill C-38, and, “I also respect everyone’s wish to peacefully protest.”

Webb said the co-ordinated nationwide protests are a warning to the Tories.

“This means the Conservative government is put on notice that the populace is not going to put up with what they’re doing,” she said.

Bill C-38 is expected to be passed before the House of Commons rises June 22 for its summer break. However, Green Partly leader Elizabeth May, whose party does not have status in Parliament, is allowed to propose unlimited amendments to the bill, and has said she may do so to stall it and force the government to split it up.