National Post: Alberta premier blasts ‘flawed’ Bill C-69 that subjects energy projects to broader review
Alberta premier blasts ‘flawed’ Bill C-69 that subjects energy projects to broader review
OTTAWA — Alberta Premier Rachel Notley on Wednesday called on Ottawa to amend its controversial C-69 energy reform bill, repeating claims by Alberta and industry that they have little faith in the federal government correcting the “flawed” legislation.
“With significant headwinds making investors skittish, we need more than a pat on the head and a ‘there-there’,” Notley said Wednesday in a speech in Ottawa.
“The federal government has the ability to fix Bill C-69,” Notley said. “They must get on with it.”
The sharply worded address comes after months of prodding by Alberta, which is now urging Ottawa to delay passage of Bill C-69, legislation introduced in February that would significantly widen the environmental review process for major energy projects like hydro dams or oil pipelines.
Oil and gas lobby groups have been in an uproar. In particular, they have rejected federal assurances by that industry concerns over C-69 could be addressed through regulations, rather than the legislation itself.
Regulations are effectively the finer details and rules that fulfil the broader aims of legislation, often added after the bill passes. If a piece of legislation says a mining project must account for its broader environmental impact, for example, regulations might specify the precise way in which carbon emissions are measured, or what types of water bodies would be included.
Ottawa has repeatedly told industry that it will make the appropriate amendments to C-69 retroactively — a claim lobby groups have roundly rejected.
“The message has been: ‘trust us, we’ll fix this through regulations’. Well, there isn’t a lot of trust out there,” said Chris Bloomer, president and CEO of the Canadian Energy Pipelines Association.
CEPA and other groups have said the federal government needs to address what they view as profound flaws in the legislation. Some of the biggest concerns include the substantial increase in the number of people who could take part in the hearings process for new projects; uncertainty over which projects will be subject to the new review process; and claims that the environment minister has too much influence over final approvals.
Environment and Climate Change Canada officials are leading efforts to craft regulations for C-69. That involves concocting a list of projects that will be subject to the new rules, as well as details around how Ottawa will enforce hard timelines for project reviews — another major industry concern.
Ottawa has said it will release its project list this fall.
Notley’s speech Wednesday also came as Western oil producers face a pipeline crunch, forcing them to accept a steep discount for their crude. One estimate last week suggested Canadian producers were foregoing as much as $80 million per day as a result of the price differential which, at times, has forced companies to sell at $40 a barrel less than U.S. competitors.
“The toll on jobs is mounting, anxiety around kitchen tables is rising, and the economic damage to the country is deepening,” Notley said.
The discount, coming after a years-long rout in global oil prices, prompted Notley to announce on Wednesday that Alberta would purchase rail capacity to help companies get their product to market. Ottawa has said it was considering chipping in money to help, but has not laid out firm plans.
Business groups worry bill C-69 will only add to oil and gas industry wounds.
“This bill is as damaging to the Canadian economy as any piece of legislation that we’ve seen in a decade,” said Tim McMillan, president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
McMillan said Ottawa has shown little openness to amending the legislation, and said regulatory changes could badly complicate its rollout.
“To try to correct something in regulations that is faulty in legislation — that’s poor practice. So we’re trying to get these changes into the legislation.”
Bill C-69 passed second reading in the Senate Tuesday, and is expected to be studied by committee this winter.
However, observers believe the Senate’s appetite to amend the bill has narrowed in recent months, particularly as the Liberals continue to bolster their support through new Senate appointments. Any amendments to the bill would have to be passed back to the House of Commons for approval.
Industry groups are not unanimous in their dissent toward C-69. Pierre Gratton, head of the Mining Association of Canada, has largely supported the legislation, though he acknowledges it could have some downsides for uranium miners. He argues amendments could needlessly complicate the bill.
“We think the government struck a balance here,” he said. “Our big fear is it gets amended to the point where it’s a dog’s breakfast and it doesn’t work for anybody.”