Senators Table Competing Amendments to Bill C-69
After a relentless push by the fossil lobby and others in the natural resource sector, Conservative and Independent members of the Senate Energy Committee are proposing hundreds of changes to Bill C-69, the proposed federal Impact Assessment Act.
Many of the proposed amendments are “aimed at clarifying language around the scope and the length of the assessment process, the role of the environment minister, and how much public participation should be permitted during regulatory hearings,” CBC reports. “The changes are meant to address industry and provincial government claims that the bill, as written, could cripple the natural resources sector.”
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CBC takes it as evidence of “frosty relations” between the two Senate caucuses that they declined to share their proposed amendments before debate on the competing packages began Tuesday. Senators face a looming deadline to complete their work on the bill before Parliament rises around June 30, ahead of the federal election this fall.
The two groups appear to be “largely aligned already on the bill’s perceived flaws and how they might go about fixing them,” CBC notes. “Even the government has some amendments it would like to make to the bill before it clears the final legislative hurdles.”
But that doesn’t mean Independent and Liberal members were prepared to accept an integrated set of amendments, introduced by Conservative deputy committee chair Sen. Michael MacDonald on just a few minutes’ notice, that had been drafted in large part by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA), among other stakeholders.
Critics including CAPP “have demanded changes designed to prevent public policy debates from being part of project assessments, restrict application intervenors to those directly affected by the project or with expertise, set firm timelines, and limit government ministers’ discretionary powers,” CBC reports in a dispatch from Calgary. And Enbridge CEO Al Monaco said it’s “critical” for Canada’s energy future that the bill undergo substantive changes.
But that doesn’t mean all the members of the Senate committee are prepared to be railroaded.
“I ask all senators to think very carefully about whether it is appropriate for senators in the upper house of the Canadian Parliament to take a substantial package, written entirely by an industry group, and to adopt it, holus bolus, without our value-added or sober second thought,” said Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, facilitator of the Independent Senators Group. “We’re senators, we’re not stenographers. We do not believe we should simply be taking verbiage from interest groups and approving them,” so “we must reject this proposal to vote for 192 pages of amendments in one shot.”
“The Opposition in the Senate will stand with the opponents of Bill C-69,” countered a spokesperson for Conservative Senate Leader Larry Smith. “These opponents represent key economic sectors that drive economic growth.”
Independent Alberta Sen. Paula Simons said it would be “ridiculous” for the two factions to reject each other’s amendments on partisan grounds, adding that she saw many similarities between the two sets of proposals. “There’s not a lot of radical difference,” she said. “There’s not actually a tremendous amount of daylight between them.”
CBC has a capsule comparison of the two, noting that “the Independent senators have made a number of amendments that would, among other things, limit the environment minister’s ability to interfere in the regulatory process and stop and start project timelines. The Conservative caucus, meanwhile, wants to curb public participation in the review process to ensure timely decisions, while solidifying the role of the offshore petroleum boards.”
The next step in the committee’s process is for the Senate law clerk to review the two sets of amendments, cut out the duplication, and present a “more focused list of amendments” for the committee to consider, the national broadcaster states.