B.C. environmental law group gives failing grade to Canadian budget bill
A B.C. group of environmental lawyers has given a failing grade to the new environmental assessment process proposed in Bill C-38, the federal government’s omnibus budget bill.
A ‘report card’ issued by West Coast Environmental Law Association today (June 20) argues the government’s new approach to environmental assessment in part three of the bill falls short of a set of principles endorsed by 58 Canadian organizations.
Their criteria included strengthened public participation, meaningful consultation of aboriginal governments, regional cumulative effects assessments, and the establishment of a legal framework for environmental assessments that incorporates sustainability considerations and enables ‘big picture’ planning.
“Our greatest concerns are that in part three of Bill C-38, there’s an overall trend away from looking at the ecosystem approach, and towards a very piecemeal, fragmented view of our environment that actually doesn’t include human health, it doesn’t include a long-term view of the economy, and it doesn’t seem to respect the fact that ecosystems are inter-connected,” Rachel Forbes, staff counsel for the organization, told the Straight by phone.
The over 400-page budget bill was passed in the House of Commons on Monday (June 18) in a 157-135 vote and sent to the Senate. Part three of Bill C-38 repeals the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and replaces it with new legislation. The federal government has said the new act will streamline current regulatory processes.
Forbes calls the new assessment process “a complete reversal of approach” from the current act.
“We used to have a process that everything was assessed unless it was specifically excluded, and now nothing is assessed, unless it’s specifically included,” she said.
The lawyer added she’s concerned that there’s a potential for “a lot to slip through the cracks” under the new process.
According to West Coast Environmental Law Association’s analysis of the legislation, the new act will “dramatically” narrow the environmental effects that must be assessed, and eliminate the assessment of thousands of smaller projects, among other changes.
“We’re going to miss looking at things in the big picture, and the impact that projects have on our environment and on our community,” said Forbes.
“We’re going to miss consulting with First Nations that will be affected by projects that are no longer going to even be assessed, and we’re not going to have enough opportunity to do good science.”