Clarifiying the deliberately confusing Bill C-38

As a long-time environmental lawyer who has watched, and, in some cases, played a role in the development of Canada's environmental laws, I am devastated at the cynical, manipulative, and undemocratic way the Harper Conservatives are weakening or destroying those crucial laws.

The Conservatives have hidden their destructive, anti-nature, health, and even jobs agenda in the 425-page Bill C-38, the Budget Implementation Bill. Due to their imposition of time allocation on the Bill's various stages through the House of Commons , I haven't been able to speak during Second Reading, although I have been able to ask questions and make comments. That's why I decided to hold a press conference Thursday morning, May 10, to itemize the various bills, regulations, policies, and programs that will be affected.

Bill C-38 Changes Clearing the Way for Resource Extraction:

Canadian Environmental Assessment Act – “Environmental effects” under the new CEAA will be limited to effects on fish, aquatic species under the Species at Risk Act, migratory birds. A broader view of impacts is limited to: federal lands, Aboriginal peoples, and changes to the environment “directly linked or necessarily incidental” to federal approval.

Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency – The Agency will have 45 days after receiving an application to decide if an assessment is required. Environmental Assessments are no longer required for projects involving federal money. The Minister is given wide discretion to decide. New “substitution” rules allow Ottawa to download EAs to the provinces; “comprehensive” studies are eliminated. Cabinet will be able to over-rule decisions. A retroactive section sets the clock at July 2010 for existing projects.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act – The present one-year limit to permits for disposing waste at sea can now be renewed four times. The 3 and 5 year time limits protecting Species at Risk from industrial harm will now be open-ended.

Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act – This legislation, which required government accountability and results reporting on climate change policies, is being repealed.

Fisheries Act – Fish habitat provisions will be changed to protect only fish of “commercial, Aboriginal, and recreational” value and even those habitat protections are weakened. The new provisions create an incentive to drain a lake and kill all the fish, if not in a fishery, in order to fill a dry hole with mining tailings.

Navigable Waters Protection Act – Pipelines and power lines will be exempt from the provisions of this Act. Also, the National Energy Board absorbs the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) whenever a pipeline crosses navigable waters. The NWPA is amended to say a pipeline is not a "work" within that Act.

National Energy Board Act – NEB reviews will be limited to two years – and then its decisions can be reversed by the Cabinet, including the present Northern Gateway Pipeline review.

Species at Risk Act – This is being amended to exempt the National Energy Board from having to impose conditions to protect critical habitat on projects it approves. Also, companies won’t have to renew permits on projects threatening critical habitat.

Parks Canada Agency Act – Reporting requirements are being reduced, including the annual report. 638 of the nearly 3000 Parks Canada workers will be cut. Environmental monitoring and ecological restoration in the Gulf Islands National Park are being cut.

Canadian Oil and Gas Operations Act – This will be changed to exempt pipelines from the Navigational Waters Act. Coasting Trade Act – This will be changed to promote seismic testing allowing increased off-shore drilling.

Nuclear Safety Control Act – Environmental Assessments will be moved to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which is a licensing body not an assessing body – so there is a built-in conflict.

Canada Seeds Act – This is being revamped so the job of inspecting seed crops is transferred from Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors to “authorized service providers" the private sector.

Agriculture Affected – Under the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act, publicly owned grasslands have acted as community pastures under federal management, leasing grazing rights to farmers so they could devote their good land to crops, not livestock. This will end. Also, the Centre for Plant Health in Sidney, BC, an important site for quarantine and virus-testing on plant stock strategically located across the Salish Sea to protect BC's primary agricultural regions, will be moved to the heart of BC's fruit and wine industries.

National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy – The NRTEE brought industry leaders, environmentalists, First Nations, labour, and policy makers together to provide non-partisan research and advice on federal policies. Its demise will leave a policy vacuum in relation to Canada's economic development.

More Attacks on Environmental Groups – The charities sections now preclude gifts which may result in political activity. The $8 million new money to harass charities is unjustified.

Water Programs – Environment Canada is cutting several water-related programs and others will be cut severely, including some aimed at promoting or monitoring water-use efficiency.

Wastewater Survey – The Municipal Water and Wastewater Survey, the only national study of water consumption habits, is being cut after being in place since 1983.

Monitoring Effluent – Environment Canada’s Environmental Effects Monitoring Program, a systematic method for measuring the quality of effluent discharge, including from mines and pulp mills, will be cut by 20 percent.

In spite of the fact that most Canadians have no idea how seriously Bill C-38 will affect their lives, the Senate is beginning hearings so that Conservative Senators can vote on it as soon as possible. This railroading version of democracy is tragic for Canada.

The Green Party of Canada is launching its C-38: Environment Devastation Act campaign to engage Canadians in having their C-38 concerns heard. Please visit budgetdevastation.ca for more information.

Elizabeth May is the Leader of the Green Party of Canada and Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands.

Originally posted on rabble.ca.