Oil and governance

Mike De Souza reveals that not only did the oil industry lobby Environment Minister Peter Kent and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver to overhaul Canada's environmental laws, they also specifically proposed that the changes be made through omnibus legislation. Two omnibus bills later and Canada's hard-won environmental protections lie in ruins.

The changes were proposed by Energy Framework Initiative (EFI), which includes the usual suspects: the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute, and the Canadian Gas Association. EFI specifically requested changes to the National Energy Board Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA), the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Species at Risk Act (SARA), and the Migratory Birds Convention Act (MBCA). Most of these laws have since been changed.

The changes were made through omnibus bills C-38 and C-45. Only the SARA and MCBA have been left untouched, although the Harper government has largely failed to enforce SARA anyway. Minister Kent has promised to make SARA more "efficient".

The most controversial changes were those made to the Fisheries Act and the CEAA by Bill C-38. Four former Fisheries Ministers spoke against the changes, to no avail. When the CEAA was re-written, almost 3000 environmental assessments were scrapped overnight. 678 of the canceled reviews involved fossil fuel energy and 248 involved a pipeline. Fisheries Minister Ashfield proudly noted that the new legislation offered new tools to "authorize" water pollution.

At the time, the Harper government claimed the changes were needed because environmental assessments were slowing economic development. The new rules say that reviews must be completed in under two years. However, recent peer-reviewed research shows that many reviews were completed in months, with the rest mostly finished in under a year. Simply put, the bottleneck never existed. It was a smokescreen for making broader changes to environmental legislation.

Briefing notes to Minister Kent have revealed that pipeline development was a "top of mind" concern in the development of the omnibus bills, and that the Harper government asked the oil industry for support in selling the changes to the public, which they knew would be "very controversial".

It turns out that days before Minister Kent's was to tell the oil industry that their interests were "top of mind", he was also to tell First Nations groups that "Any changes to the government’s environmental assessment or project approvals regime that you may have heard of through the media are … speculative at this point as legislation has not been introduced in the House of Commons (and) will respect our duties toward Aboriginal peoples." How nice.

A recent poll indicates that half of Canadians think Stephen Harper has a ‘hidden agenda’. It would appear, however, that his agenda isn't hidden at all. As the evidence makes clear, Stephen Harper's agenda is the oil industry's agenda.

See also:

Stephen Maher/Windsor Star: "Federal policy may not be helping oilpatch"

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