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MONEY TALKS LOUDER THAN NATURE; LOBBIES, PIPELINES AND TAR SANDS
By Stéphanie L. Denis
Mr. Harper's Conservatives pulled the rug from under environmental protection for the sake of economic growth; the most memorable of his government measures affecting the environment include withdrawing from the Kyoto protocol, the shutdown of National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, the phasing out of the Office of the National Science Adviser, and the restrictive protocols requiring scientists and government officials to obtain government permission before speaking to the media.
Today however, we are looking at how the protection of more than 2.5 million lakes, rivers and water beds from construction, modification and other potentially harmful human interactions, dwindled down to just 159 water bodies, including 3 oceans. The Navigation Protection Act, which came into force in 2104, was not just for boats. It protected all navigable waters, including waters navigable by canoe or steamship, from a structure construction be it a bridge, a dock or pipeline, without provincial, national and environmental instances' approval. Those reviews were lobbied, but the public was never consulted at the time.
In 2011, the Conservative government was putting together the "Responsible Resource Development", with 72 top priorities that needed laws and regulation changes to promote economic growth. That got the CEPA (Canadian Energy Pipeline Association) interested in moving in on the discussions.
Thru the Freedom of information Act, concise information is available about the CEPA objectives, and subsequent demands that were eventually granted to the petroleum industry among others by government officials in a relatively short period. On October 27th 2011, the CEPA had a meeting with the Deputy Minister of International Trades. (Copies of the slides presented at that meeting, sourced by Mr. Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada, can be found at https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_0MqnZ4wmcMRlZfWlFrWmM2Nnc/edit)
The objective was simple; facilitate and streamline the approval process to run pipelines over the bed of large and small water surfaces without the time consuming and restricting regulations of the then Navigable Waters Protection Act. A joint letter from Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, Canadian Petroleum Products, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Gas Association was sent on December 12th 2011 to both Ministers of Environment Canada (Peter Kent) and Natural Resources Canada (Joe Oliver). It states clearly and very simply what is being asked and eventually granted by the Harper government: less regulatory hassle more economic growth.
The first budget omnibus bill in June 2012 contained a replacement for the Environmental Assessment Act and a provision to remove pipelines and power lines from provisions of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. The government went even further in a second omnibus bill (C-45). The Navigable Waters Protection Act was changed to the Navigation Protection Act, steamrolling the 1882 Act, which had evolved over time into a key element of environmental legislations in Canada. Transport Minister at the time, Denis Lebel has argued in the media that: "The changes were in response to demands from municipalities, who found that the act was tying them up in red tape".
Public Private Partnerships like the Jacques Cartier and Champlain bridges inc. consortium currently building Montreal's new bridge and other similar municipal projects were then able to put pressure along with the petroleum industry to cut out whole chapters of the original act and start building faster.
After pressures from many native and environmental organizations, the Trudeau administration decided to hold a public review from October 2016 to January 2017 on a dedicated page of the government's website. Every citizen and organization was welcome to send stories and concerns, all of which would be added to the review.
We talked to Mr. Mark Mattson, lawyer, founder and president of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper who had this to say: "The Harper government were very quick to establish the Major Project Management Office that had the mandate to change laws on 72 projects to promote economic growth in a time effective manner, and was lobbied from day one by anyone and everyone from petroleum industry to cities that wanted to put projects forward and did not want navigation and environmental assessments that would alert the public and delay or bring attention to what they intended to do." Mr. Mattson had this to say about the recent public review: "We are concerned because public reviews are a slow process and the government did not go out of his way to promote it. We see a lot happening at the grassroots level as we recently saw with the Great Lakes and this is a good thing. The more the public is aware of the laws and their implications, standing opposition to these matters will rise and politicians will have no choice but to listen to what the citizens have to say."
We left a message for Mr. Martin Chaumont, who, since 2013, has been the National Director for the Navigation Protection Program at Transport Canada, and was Director of Strategic Planning at Transport Canada from 2006 to 2013. Chaumont did call back, and when asked about the public reviews he said: "I have no information as to where the review is at or when it is to give it's conclusions. I'm sorry I will have to redirect you to media relations who will be able to answer your questions about the public reviews."
Here is the Official answer that we received 24 hours later via the media department:
"As part of his mandate from the Prime Minister, the Minister of Transport was asked to review the previous government’s changes to the Act, to restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards. Alongside, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities agreed to study the changes that came into force in 2014." The official media response concluded with the following: "The Standing Committee initiated its study in October and heard from witnesses until December 2016. The Standing Committee also received written submissions from Canadians, which can be found on its website at http://www.parl.gc.ca/Committees/en/TRAN/StudyActivity?studyActivityId=9081071.
Upon completion, the Standing Committee will table its findings in Parliament. The department looks forward to the results of the Standing Committee’s study, before determining what changes may be contemplated. For information about the Review, please visit www.Canada.ca/environmentalreviews."
We will keep our readers posted as new development arises.