What is Bill C-69? I bet many have heard about it, but few actually understand what it seeks to achieve and how it could have disastrous consequences on our country.
The Trudeau government claims C-69 will restore public trust in our environmental-assessment review process and energy regulator by creating two brand new agencies. The government defends its bill by repeating (over and over again) the same keywords and catchphrases you would expect from politicians.
As a former provincial cabinet minister in British Columbia, I’ve been in the game long enough to recognize when a bill does not pass the smell test. No government talking points can save this bill, which is why the Senate’s committee on energy, the environment and natural resources has taken the extraordinary step of taking this bill on the road to hear from you.
The government brags about conducting comprehensive consultations before it tabled this bill last year. Clearly, it failed miserably considering the amount of criticism this bill has been generating ever since. The prime minister should be thanking Senators for stepping up to the plate in trying to get this right.
Two weeks ago, our committee travelled to Western Canada and held over 30 hours of public hearings in Vancouver, Calgary, Fort McMurray, Saskatoon and Winnipeg, and heard from over 100 witnesses. Similar to our meetings in Ottawa, the testimony we are hearing is seriously troubling. Behind the Liberal talking points and catchy media sound bites are angry Canadians worried about the state of our country and the impact of this bill.
So far, we are hearing some of the same discontent from Eastern Canadians this week. Indeed, our committee is currently in Eastern Canada meeting with industry representatives, academics, environmentalists and various stakeholders to hear their thoughts on the bill.
While some have coined C-69 as the “no more pipelines bill,” this bill is about much more than pipelines and the oil and gas industry. Don’t be fooled: this bill will affect our economy as a whole and touches on nearly all facets of major infrastructure projects and resource development in Canada, which is why Canadians from all regions should keep a watchful eye on our committee’s work.
If Canada can’t get major projects off the ground — whether it’s pipelines, high-frequency trains, bridges, renewable electricity, transmission lines or marine terminals — we risk serious harm to our economy. Naturally, this implies less good-paying, family-supporting jobs for everyday Canadians, and less revenue from royalties and taxes to fund our country’s many social, health and education programs.
Over the course of our committee’s meetings, many issues have been raised and given us much to consider in terms of amendments including on matters related to: predictability and certainty for proponents; assessment timelines; regulatory independence; inefficient, bureaucratic red tape; ministerial discretion; the lack of a designated project list; factors to be considered when assessing a project; poorly defined concepts; the removal of the standing test; provincial jurisdiction; and more.
There is obviously no consensus. The testimony we’ve heard so far is wide-ranging, including calls for the Senate to support, amend or defeat the bill. In my view, the vast majority want us to fix this bill, as it is seriously flawed. Senators have much more work ahead of them to make this bill work for Canadians.
Canadians can rest assured that the Senate’s Official Opposition will not sit idle and let this high-consequence, high-controversy bill pass without putting the spotlight on its many shortcomings. After all, that’s the role of the Senate — to take a sober, second look at legislation and try to improve it when possible. Bill C-69 needs serious improvement and I’m committed, along with my Conservative colleagues, to making it better. Canadians simply deserve better.
There is no doubt in my mind that Bill C-69 is partly the brainchild of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, who recently resigned in light of the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Now that he is no longer in the picture, I hope the prime minister will take a more reasoned and sensible approach to this bill and actually consider accepting what I hope will be major changes to this bill made by the Senate. If not, I trust that Canadians will remember that when they head to the polls in October.
Richard Neufeld is a Senator for British Columbia and is a member of the environment and natural resources committee. He was previously a B.C. MLA and cabinet minister.