Translating bills into stories: C38 illustrated

As part of BlackOut SpeakOut, my colleague Nancy and I facilitated a dialogue on the federal omnibus bill C38 among interested and informed folks in our workspace, the Centre for Social Innovation.

We had a great chat about the proposed changes, some of the themes we see (pipelines!) and some efforts underway to resist the dismantling of environmental research, protection and advocacy in this country.

We also came up with a few ‘faces’ that represent the risks that these changes will expose us to – from fishermen to investment bankers. (Get in touch if you’re interested in those.)

Wondering WHAT YOU CAN DO? Encourage your friends and family in Conservative-held ridings to call up their MP and voice their concerns about this undemocratic pipeline bill.

Highlights of changes to environmental legislation in Bill C-38:

Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
Limit definition of “environmental effects”
Fixed timelines: for each stage of the Environmental Assessment (EA) process
Public participation: limited to “interested parties”
Responsible authorities: limited to Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA), National Energy Board (NEB), Nuclear Safety Commission
Project List: Only environmentally significant “designated projects” would require a CEAA assessment and these projects would be identified on a list set out in a regulation or by an order made by the Minister of the Environment

Canadian Environmental Protection Act
Looser rules for waste at sea
Weaker protection for species at risk

Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act
This legislation, which required government accountability and results reporting on climate change policies, is being repealed.

Fisheries Act
Changes definitions to only protect fish of “commercial, aboriginal, and recreational” value
Rather than prohibiting harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat (HADD), there will be a prohibition against carrying out works or activities that result in “serious harm” to fish
There will also be broad powers under s. 35 to create regulations exempting classes of works or activities from the s. 35 “serious harm” prohibition.
Fines for non-compliance increased

Navigable Waters Protection Act
Pipelines and power lines may be exempt from the Navigable Waters Protection Act

National Energy Board Act
Time limits: reviews will be limited to two years, and decisions can be reversed by Cabinet
Interprovincial and international pipelines and power lines will be exempt from the operation of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, and the NEB will have jurisdiction to authorize where pipelines or power lines under its jurisdiction cross navigable waters
Additional powers will be added to the Act to allow for enforcement of violations of the Act and penalties for non-compliance

Species at Risk Act (SARA)
Removes the requirement that permits be limited to a maximum of five years. In place, the SARA permits themselves will set out the date of their expiry. This may open the door for permits for long-term and existing operations
National Energy Board exempt from having to impose conditions to protect critical habitat on projects it approves

Parks Canada Agency Act
Reporting requirements reduced
638 of the nearly 3000 Parks Canada workers will be cut
Environmental monitoring and ecological restoration in the Gulf Islands National Park are being cut

Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act
Pipelines exempt from the Navigational Waters Act

Nuclear Safety Control Act
Environmental assessments moved to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission which is a licensing body, not assessing – so there is a built-in conflict

Agricultural programs affected
Canada Seeds Act: inspection of seed crops transferred from Canadian Food Inspection Agency to the private sector
Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act, end of  program where publicly owned grasslands have acted as community pastures under federal management, leasing grazing rights to farmers so they could devote their good land to crops, not livestock

Program Cuts
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy: abolished
World-renowned Environmental Lakes Area program: abolished
Municipal Water and Wastewater Survey: abolished
Monitoring Effluent Program of Environment Canada that measures the quality of effluent discharge: cut by 20 per cent.
WaterSense: a water efficience labelling program
Research facilities closed: the PEARL on Ellesemere Island and Yukon Research Lab at Yukon College in Whitehorse
DFO National Contaminants Program: abolished
Marine toxicology programs: almost all 75 scientists are laid off

Charitable Status of Environmental Organizations
$8 million to the Canada Revenue Agency to target environmental groups that oppose, or even question, federal government policy

We then reflected on what factors might be at play behind the changes to environmental legislation including:
Pipelines / oil and gas development – some believe the changes are being made to facilitate the approval of pipelines and facilitate the development and selling of oil and gas resources to foreign interests
Ideology – some of the changes may be a result of the Conservative ideology that believes that less government is better
Anti-Science – a number of the changes point to the belief that political factors trump science in decision-making
Economy above all else / Job Creation – you could also argue that the changes reflect the attitude that the growth of the economy should be prioritized over of all other considerations, including environmental health

Responses to Bill C-38
The following were identified as various campaigns and responses to C38:

Role of bureaucrats – Is there a role for bureaucrats in directing the cuts and if so, how can others support them?

Potential future legal challenges:
First Nations– some of the changes to the legislation may impact the ability of the federal government to consult with First Nations on developments, a constitutionally-protected right.
NAFTA – there may be an opportunity enter an official complaint to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation arguing that Canada is trying to secure an economic advantage by lowering its environmental standards

Political opposition parties:
Elizabeth May is proposing numerous amendments in an attempt to delay the passing of the bill, until after summer break
The Liberal party is supporting Elizabeth May
NDP led their own public consultation meetings around the country
Some parties may delay voting by not providing quorum

BlackOut SpeakOut
Campaign united environmental organizations to build awareness of the Bill and its affects on environmental legislation

Leadnow and other campaigns
Petitions and letter writing to encourage Conservative MPs to call in sick on voting day

International media and reputation
International media is starting to pick up this story; potentially damaging to Canada’s reputation
However, it was recognized that unless this coverage affects the bottom-line, it will probably not influence the government’s decisions

Did we miss anything? Comment below: