(Ottawa) Conservative MPs on the Committee reviewing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) have set out recommendations that follow the party line to further gut the federal environmental assessment process while failing to consider expert testimony to improve it, according to environmental groups from across Canada.
“Today’s report from the House of Commons Environment Committee failed to meaningfully reflect any of the ten principles for a healthy, secure, and sustainable Canada released last month and now endorsed by nearly 50 civil society groups,” said MiningWatch Canada’s Jamie Kneen, co-chair of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Caucus of the Canadian Environmental Network. “The Committee is clearly just painting by numbers on a page given to it by the Prime Minister’s Office.”
“Instead of a Parliamentary committee hearing from a full range of experts and the people with real-life experience, Canadians have had to listen to Minister Joe Oliver repetitively asserting that the public can’t be allowed to interfere in decision-making that will affect generations – not because we’re not qualified to comment, but precisely because we are. What should have been an informed deliberation has turned into a predictable and ideological attack on one of Canada’s key environmental laws,” Kneen added.
Lawyers and environmentalists point to an abruptly truncated and procedurally unfair review process as evidence the Committee has not undertaken a comprehensive review of CEAA that considers the submissions of all witnesses and views of all Committee members.
“This is a core area of federal responsibility, but Committee members barely had time to familiarise themselves with the terminology, never mind look into the range of experience of affected communities, proponents, and even government agencies charged with carrying out assessments,” said Rachel Forbes, a lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law. “There were a lot of organisations, First Nations, and even federal administrators that the Committee didn’t hear from. Without having obtained sufficient information and input through a fair process, we don't think there is a basis for claiming that this is a credible or comprehensive report that takes account of or upholds the values of democracy, health, and sustainability that Canadians hold dear.”
“It’s deeply disturbing that the government is willing to make serious policy decisions, without giving them serious thought,” commented Kneen. “Experts and grassroots groups alike have been working for years to develop a rigorous, responsive, and participatory environmental assessment process.” The Caucus, a national network of environmental groups seeking to improve environmental assessment since 1985, has published an extensive series of papers on various aspects of its design and implementation.
Both the Liberal and NDP members of the Environment Committee have issued dissenting reports highlighting the inadequacies of the parliamentary review process and concerns with a number of the report’s recommendations.
“Re-opening the statutory review process, as proposed by the NDP, is the only reasonable solution,” said Stephen Hazell, Ottawa-based environmental lawyer and law professor. “It is not too late for the Committee to discard shopworn ideologies and engage in an informed deliberation on how to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and fairness of federal environmental assessment.”
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See “A Checklist for Strong Environmental Laws” and the list of endorsing organisations at here.
See the Environmental Planning and Assessment Caucus’ “Resources” page for more documentation.
For more information contact:
• Jamie Kneen, MiningWatch Canada, (613) 569-3439 or (613) 761-2271 (cell), jamie(at)miningwatch.ca
• Rachel Forbes, Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law, (604) 601-2508 or (604) 345-9129 (cell), rforbes(at)wcel.org
• Stephen Hazell, Lawyer with Ecovision Law and Law Professor, (613) 422-1107 or (613) 724-1908 (cell), stephendhazell(at)gmail.com