MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada: Tories may eliminate some environmental oversights

Published by MAC on 2009-01-26
Source: Juliet O'Neill, Canwest News Service (2009-01-22)

OTTAWA -- The federal government is considering the elimination of environmental assessments on all infrastructure projects of less than $10-million and reducing oversight on bigger projects, says a document leaked to the New Democratic Party.

Linda Duncan, the NDP environment critic and an Edmonton MP, cited the document at a news conference Thursday, accusing the federal government of planning a "death blow" to federal environmental protection under the guise of speeding infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy.

"We're telling the government they can move ahead with shovel-ready projects; just don't bulldoze our futures in the process," said Jamie Kneen of Mining Watch Canada, an environmental watchdog organization.

One measure would exempt projects under $10-million from environmental assessment. Another would eliminate one level of assessment, either federal or provincial, on bigger projects. Ms. Duncan cited waste disposal sites and water treatment facilities as examples of infrastructure projects under $10-million.

A veteran of the environment movement before she was elected to Parliament in the fall, Ms. Duncan said the proposals would undo two decades of hard work by the public and private sectors and public interest groups.

The document, an e-mail from within Environment Canada, says these "short-term measures" would be followed by a new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, as soon as March or April, that would focus on major projects and co-ordinate federal-provincial procedures. Ms. Duncan said the Conservatives are looking for a way to avoid a required public review of the current law by 2010.

Frederic Baril, a spokesman for Environment Minister Jim Prentice, had only a brief comment: "I don't want to speculate on a bill that has not been tabled in the House of Commons. No formal decision has been made, so I cannot comment more on this."

The e-mail set out the measures explained in a conference call chaired by Yves Leboeuf, vice-president, policy development, at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

Kneen said delays and duplication should not be blamed on environmental assessment but on bad planning, poor co-ordination and incompetence, either on the part of bureaucracy or companies.

"Whether it's a small footbridge or a huge open-pit mine, if a project is badly designed or if it's just a bad idea to begin with, the public needs a way to make sure it is fixed or stopped," he said, vowing a vigorous fight against weakening oversight.

Green Leader Elizabeth May said at a separate news conference that environmental assessments rarely delay projects and even more rarely halt them. She said improvements could be made to the assessment process, "but gutting it under cover of the current economic crisis would be, in my mind, just as egregious as what they did in November." She was referring to the federal government's attempt to halt public funds for political parties and other measures in the economic statement that triggered turmoil and the suspension of Parliament.

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