In a lengthy (2,600-word) motion tabled June 12, 2019, Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna served notice that the federal government would accept some of the 180+ Senate amendments to the new impact assessment Bill C-69, but none of the substantive amendments put forward at the behest of the oil and gas industry. There would be some tinkering at the margins, but Bill C-69 would be returned to the Senate for reconsideration in substantially the same form as before.
Procedurally, the House of Commons must now vote on the package of Senate amendments, a process that the government should manage swiftly given its majority. Then it will be up to the Senate again, which may either yield to the will of the elected House of Commons, or dig in its heels.
Bill C-69 was originally put forward as a fix to a flawed environmental assessment process. The Harper government had brought in new legislation in 2012 (Bill C-38) to limit the scope of assessments and guarantee timelines. But instead of speeding things up, Bill C-38 merely emboldened project opponents, leading to more protests and court challenges.
Under Bill C-69’s more inclusive process, the Trudeau government argued, all relevant voices would be heard and projects, if approved, would go forward with a stronger social licence and fewer court challenges.
The resource industry and newly-elected provincial governments haven’t bought it. Though some Premiers have framed Bill C-69 as a threat to national unity, the overarching concern is its potential impact on investment in resources and related infrastructure.
“This is not a partisan issue,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in a June 12, 2019 statement. “It is a matter of restoring international confidence in Canada at a time when our reputation as a place to invest is at risk. Without the Senate’s amendments, this bill will drive away more jobs and investment from Canada.”
Similar sentiments were echoed in statements from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association and many companies in the oil patch.
Even Environmental Defence could not stand fully behind the government’s decision, albeit for different reasons. In a statement, Program Director Keith Brooks applauded the government’s rejection of “the worst of the Senate’s amendments,” but lamented its acceptance of others that might limit public participation and that strengthened the roles of energy lifecycle regulators.