Senate committee proposes 187 amendments to C-69

Committee's recommendations now must be voted on by Senate as a whole

May 16, 2019, 8:56 pm

Senator Michael MacDonald, deputy chair of the Senate Energy Committee

Senators on the Energy Committee have approved 187 amendments to the Liberal government’s environmental assessment legislation. If the Senate as a whole agrees with the committee's amendments, it will force the House of Commons to consider a substantially altered version of Bill C-69.

One day after the Senate transport committee rejected the federal moratorium on oil tankers in northern B.C., the energy committee that studied C-69 voted to include a mixed bag of proposed amendments in its final report.

The move represents one last push back against legislation that is supposed to improve the way the environmental effects of major energy and transportation projects are evaluated, making the assessments more stringent so they are less likely to fail court challenges.

But the oil industry and affected communities have launched strong opposition to the bill, which industry leaders say will sow uncertainty and prevent major projects, such as pipelines, from ever getting built.

Moosomin's economic development committee was among those that submitted briefs to the Senate Committee.

The committee had proposed more than 250 amendments in total, which were whittled down before the committee began its line-by-line study Thursday.

Among the amendments to C-69 are 90 that were inspired by oil and gas lobby groups and some provincial governments opposed to the bill.

Those proposed changes, championed by Conservative senators, include limiting the discretionary powers of the environment minister in approving or rejecting projects, shortening timelines for the review process and enshrining “shareholder certainty” as a key factor in final project approvals.

Conservative Sen. Michael MacDonald, deputy chair of the energy committee, was hopeful but not overly optimistic the federal Liberal government would accept the sweeping amendments.

“Well, hope springs eternal, but this is not a government that has been open to accepting too many things unless you put them in a corner,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has indicated the government is open to amending the bill but he and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna have refused to comment on amendments proposed by senators until the upper house makes a final decision on them.

Criticism of C-69 began shortly after the Liberals introduced it in early 2018.

Oil and gas lobby groups, including the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association and Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, contend the new bill opens up the process to environmental activists and other interest groups opposed to natural resource extraction.

Regulatory and legal delays have hampered the oil and gas sector’s ability to build any major pipelines in the past 15 years, pushing down prices for Canadian crude.

In August 2018, Ottawa agreed to purchase the existing Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion, part of an effort that it said would ensure the project is eventually expanded.

Ottawa is currently redoing a portion of its consultations with First Nations on Trans Mountain, and is expected to make a final decision on the expansion before a June 18 deadline.