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Bill C-69 will allow for responsible future growth: Senator Harder

'The days are gone – if they ever existed – when we could exploit our resources with impunity,' said the Government Representative in the Senate.

Bill C-69 aims to improve the rules for the assessment of major projects to protect the environment and waterways, to rebuild public trust in how decisions about resource projects are made, and to provide certainty and predictable timelines to industry and investors. It also ensures that Indigenous knowledge be formally regarded and integrated into review processes.

Senator Peter Harder, the Government Representative in the Senate, delivered the following speech on October 30, 2018.

“Colleagues, I rise today to speak on Bill C-69, an act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, and to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

Almost 50 years ago, an international conference in Stockholm put the issue of sustainability on the world’s radar by declaring that the environment must not take a back seat to economic development. That wise conclusion has never been more relevant than it is today.

Earlier this fall, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change grabbed us by the lapels with a  warning we all need to heed. The IPCC said that the world could reach temperatures of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels as early as 2030, a level of global warming that risks extreme drought, wildfires, floods and food shortages much more quickly than first envisioned.

Given the enormity of this looming threat – and the speed with which it is coming at us – we have little choice but to urgently bring together civil society to deal with how we manage growth in this country.

In Bill C-69, the government has proposed legislation that will allow for responsible future growth by harmonizing development with sustaining the environment. This harmonization is a pre-requisite for building an economy that provides our children with a prosperous and safe future.

It is not a nice-to-have.

The argument that we must build in safeguards for our environment in concert with resource development is hardly new. But it is impossible to deny that our responsibility to do so has intensified enormously since the issue of sustainable development made headlines at a landmark UN conference in 1972 – led, by the way, by a noted Canadian diplomat by the name of Maurice Strong.

While climate change was still a generation away from becoming the threat it has grown into, the declaration that emerged in Stockholm included the principal that pollution must not exceed the environment’s capacity to clean itself.  It also declared that development is itself a key component towards improving the environment.

The spirit of that conference was captured 15 years later in a report on sustainability led by former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland.  Much good came from that report, but one of its most important contributions was the observation that the many challenges facing the world are a cause of interlocking challenges which need cooperation from all sectors of society to resolve. The report also famously defined sustainable development as that which “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

In Canada, governments took those words to heart. Soon after the Brundtland report, the government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney established the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. The late – and I’d argue lamented – NRTEE did much to bring together stakeholders from across the country to grapple with and offer solutions to issues of sustainability. Environmental groups, governments, businesses, labour and other members of civil society sat around that table. Indeed, one of our more-recent appointees, Senator Diane Griffin, was a member.

That incredibly diverse group of Round Table members agreed on much that, today, seems almost impossible to believe.

In 2009, the NRTEE issued a report recommending a nation-wide price on carbon pollution incorporated in a pan-Canadian system of cap-and-trade. That was almost 10 years ago and I can’t help but think that perhaps we didn’t pay enough attention.

Those who signed that report included a climate change advisor to one of Canada’s largest energy developers, a former environment minister in the government of Mr. Mulroney, and a professor whose work on sustainable fossil fuels won the Donner Prize for policy work.

As an important aside, it was the government of Mr. Mulroney – a Progressive Conservative government – which signed the Convention on Climate change at the 1992 Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro.

I mention this because of what I have recently observed in the public debate over Bill C-69. While many commentators and interest groups have supported the principals of the bill, I have also observed that several interest and business groups have advocated that this bill be gutted or even defeated in the Senate.

Some of you may have noticed an aircraft which recently circled Ottawa and other Canadian cities trailing a message which said, ‘kill the bill.’ Another influential think tank has suggested that – if the bill can’t be significantly amended – the vote should be delayed past the end of the spring session to ensure it dies when Canadians go to the polls. Others have called for a pause.

Killing a bill or delaying it to such an extent that it is not voted on are not the jobs of the Senate, where sober second thought, reflection, and providing a challenge function help to comprise our the mandate.

If there’s any bill that the Senate needs to look at in a co-operative and temperate fashion, it seems to me this is the one.

While I appreciate that the polarization of political debate has increased significantly within the public environment, there should be no divergence among us about what the issue is here.

The discussion we are currently having about C-69 is not about bringing together two competing interests. There is only one issue here, and that is the protection of the environment so that Canada can continue to develop and prosper as a society.

Allow me to quote briefly from the 2009 NRTEE report which I earlier cited.

The movement toward a low-carbon world is inevitable. But our place in it is not. Like our economy as a whole, Canada’s long-term competitiveness in a low-carbon future will not be served by inter-jurisdictional carbon competition here at home or by allowing protectionist carbon barriers to be raised at our expense abroad.  Engagement internationally needs to be reinforced by harmonized action nationally … Canada’s national environmental and economic interests jointly demand such an approach.”

I believe we have in this bill an approach that fulfills the spirit of that harmonization.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Grant Mitchell, did an excellent job outlining the balance that exists within C-69. Given that, and the fact that we will be debating this at much greater length, I won’t go into excessive detail about what he said.  I would, however, like to discuss briefly how the economy and the environment work together within this proposed legislation.

In short, Bill C-69 recognizes the importance of providing clarity to developers about how assessments will proceed. Among its many measures, C-69 will reduce the timelines for assessment done by the newly-proposed Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. Timelines for projects reviewed by life-cycle regulators like the Canadian Energy Regulator would also be shortened.

Moreover, the bill will create efficiencies that will benefit businesses, including a reduction from three to one in the number of federal authorities responsible to lead major reviews. Some mines which are subject to reviews at federal and provincial levels will also now be assessed under a single harmonized process. Increased transparency on decisions, earlier identification of issues, and targeted impact assessment guidelines for proponents will also add clarity for proponents.

As I said earlier, while there are some stakeholders devoted to making substantial amendments to this bill – and a few others who would rather that it not see the light of day – a good many have issued their support. That group includes the Mining Association of Canada, which says the bill will reduce uncertainty and increase the likelihood of timelier outcomes. This support comes from an organization whose members represent approximately 60 per cent of all federal reviews. They are the industry with the most experience with impact assessments in the country.

Moreover, good corporate citizenship demands the incorporation of strong environmental safeguards and stakeholder involvement. Those firms who fail to include them face being left behind in a world where, as I said, the reduction of GHGs is inevitable, and the requirement to consult is not optional.

Let me be clear: a lot of companies are already doing privately what this bill will do publicly and deserve our congratulations. Firms like natural resources company Teck Resources Limited believe that the intentions of the bill align with their own values and approaches to environmental assessments.

In its submission last spring to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, Teck said, and I quote:

“We continue to support the Government of Canada’s intent to strengthen public confidence in environmental assessment processes, enhance Indigenous Peoples’ participation, and support sustainable economic growth. For Teck, these intentions align with our values and our existing approach to environmental assessments. Overall, we are pleased to see these intentions largely reflected in Bill C-69.”

So, as you can see, any notion that energy companies are somehow unalterably opposed to this bill is a fallacy. Teck, and many businesses like it, are themselves agents of change when it comes to marrying the environment with their main objective of developing the resource economy.

For example, Teck is implementing its own emission goals for 2030, pledging to reduce GHGs by 450 kilotonnes of CO2 equivalent and also committing to 100 megawatts of alternative energy generation. This is part of a wide-ranging sustainability plan which I urge senators to read.

Another company, the energy firm Suncor, has indicated that is working towards a 30 per cent overall reduction in GHGs by the year 2030, while Acciona, a leading firm dedicated to development of infrastructure and renewable energy, has set emission targets of 16 per cent reduction by 2030 from a 2017 baseline. Finally, the Canadian Natural Gas Association, which services approximately 30 per cent of the country’s energy needs, is committed to reducing GHG emissions by 14 megatons, equivalent to removing three million passenger cars per year by 2030 by introducing a greater proportion of renewable natural gas into their operations.

These are entities who understand that the interests of the environment and the economy are not in conflict.

Meanwhile, the commitment of firms like Teck to Bill C-69, as well as their effort to deal with issues like climate change also help to build credibility that, in turn, leads to greater trust that projects are being reviewed fairly.

To this end, when mining companies agree that the impacts of resource projects need to be reviewed rigorously, they help to build public trust with others, including Indigenous peoples, that projects will be rigorously evaluated.  And when we ensure that Indigenous people’s views will be incorporated by providing equivalent status in the creation of joint and integrated panels, proponents will be more comfortable that their projects will survive public and, perhaps, court scrutiny.

I would also note that key environmental organizations support the bill in part because resource developers and environmental groups both realized they couldn’t get everything they wanted.

Said Lindsay Telfer, national director of the Canadian Freshwater Alliance, and I quote:

“The petroleum industry may not have gotten everything it wanted but neither did we. We are not supporting this legislation because it is exactly what we want, we are supporting it because it reflects a compromise we can live with one that meets the needs of all sectors and Canadians.”

Remember also, that Bill C-69 is the result of two years of consultations that included two independent expert panels. All affected industry sectors, environmental organizations, Indigenous groups and many others were invited to speak before the bill was tabled. More than 100 witnesses testified. Again, that’s everyone working together for a common cause.

Aside from these wide consultations, senators will also recall that the policies this bill would put into effect were promised in the 2015 election campaign. Defeating or delaying this bill – as some have suggested – is tantamount to defeating or delaying the will of the electorate.

Finally, let me return to the place where I started.

We are not Luddites – the economy must be developed to provide our children with the futures we want for them. We want them to have better lives – materially, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually – than we did.

But the days are gone – if they ever existed – when we could exploit our resources with impunity. The year 2030 is only 12 years away and many of us will still be alive when we are asked by our children and grandchildren what we did to protect the world from the devastation threatened by climate change. I, for one, will vote for this bill and others like it so, when that day comes, we can tell our youth that we tried to do the right thing.”

Bill C-69 will allow for responsible future growth: Senator Harder