According to a document obtained by Greenpeace Canada through an Access to Information request, the current overhaul of Canada’s environmental protections doesn’t just look like a gift to the oil and gas industry.
A letter dated December 12, 2011 reveals the oil and gas industry made an appeal to Environment Minister Peter Kent and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver requesting they reconsider certain environmental laws in light of “both economic growth and environmental performance.”
The letter states the “purpose of our letter is to express our shared views on the near-term opportunities before the government to address regulatory reform for major energy industries in Canada.”
Six pieces of legislation were mentioned as “outdated” or prohibitive to “shovel ready projects” across Canada including the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Species-At-Risk Act, the National Energy Board Act, the Fisheries Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act, and the Navigable Water Protection Act.
As the CBC reports, “within 10 months of the request, the industry had almost everything it wanted.”
By June 2012, the federal Conservatives had rammed one of the most controversial budget bills in recent history, the 400-page Bill C-38, through a protesting parliament. The entire process was criticized as undemocratic by the opposition, who unanimously opposed the bill and many of its proposed changes to existing environmental law.
With Bill C-38 the Environmental Assessment Act was redrawn. Major, sweeping changes were made to the Fisheries Act and the National Energy Board Act.
According to the EFI, many of Canada’s environmental statutes are outdated and embody a “philosophy of prohibiting harm” rather than “enabling responsible outcomes.” The existing environmental laws were “implemented largely in isolation of one another,” they wrote, creating “fundamentally underlying issues” that needed to be addressed.
“’Environmental’ legislation is almost entirely focused on preventing bad things from happening” which “results in a position of adversarial prohibition, rather than enabling collaborative conservation to achieve agreed common goals,” the letter states.
“Regulatory reform,” the document concludes, “was one of the principle challenges identified” for the energy industry “and has been an ongoing priority for the sector as a whole.”
“the industry’s fingerprints are all over this budget. They got the changes that they wanted and they even put out a press release later thanking the government for making those changes.”
Chris McCluskey, spokesman for Minister Oliver’s office suggested the “co-operative approach to responsible resource development” was a byproduct of “successive annual meetings of federal and provincial ministers responsible for energy.”
A recent report by the Polaris Institute shows that industry meetings with the federal government since 2008 outstrip meetings with environmental organizations by 463 percent, suggesting industry played a larger role than perhaps McClusky would like to admit.