There used to be a time when Conservative governments cared about the environment says Liberal MP Marc Miller.
“They don’t anymore,” said Miller on Nation to Nation Thursday.
“They just care about a shrinking base.”
Which is why the Conservatives are feeding into the base – heading into a fall election – when they say Bill C-69 will kill pipelines he added.
“So absolutely false,” responded Conservative MP Cathy McLeod, “that we do not care about the environment but what we don’t want put in place is a process that does nothing for environment but increases red tape across the country.”
It was rare show of combativeness for Miller, a regular on Nation to Nation, who usually sticks to party lines on any topic.
The exchange followed a line of questioning on the new Indigenous languages bill that both agreed was a good idea.
But when it came to resource development the Liberal and Conservative butted heads even though they both want Trans Mountain pipeline expanded.
Where they differ is how similar projects are approved which is what Bill C-69 is about, including overhauling the federal review process.
It’s currently before the Senate and expected to be kicked back over the House of Commons with amendments before becoming law.
McLeod, like many in the resource sector, don’t want it to get that far.
“I think this bill needs to be killed. This is a no more pipelines bill. It will drive away investment,” she said. “I think it’s a bill looking for a solution where there was no problem.”
That’s not exactly true said Miller.
“If you are for killing C-69 you’re for that process that led to the TMX mess that Conservatives created,” he said.
He’s speaking of the Trans Mountain pipeline approval that a Federal Court later overturned for not properly consulting Indigenous people.
The lack of consultation mostly happened under the previous Stephen Harper government through the National Energy Board that recommended Canada proceed with the expansion from Edmonton, Alta. to Burnaby, B.C.
But final approval was given by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who believed his government’s own review of the National Energy Board approval, along with speaking, briefly, to First Nations affected by the pipeline route was enough consultation.
Now the Trudeau government says they are trying to get it right and listening to courts.
“This bill plugs a lot of holes that were created by the previous government and allows Indigenous consultation, reliance on science and not some partisan approval that just jams things through,” said Miller.
That includes the Harper government eliminating thousands of preliminary screenings of projects the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency did each year down to less than 100 said Green party leader Elizabeth May.
But Trudeau isn’t looking to increase the number.
“Under the current legislation most federal projects will never see a review,” said May.
That means if a First Nation has a problem with a project there likely won’t be an initial environmental assessment where that issue can be raised.
Then things get weird with the bill, said May, because she and Conservatives agree on something.
“The pro-pipeline people of this bill have decided this bill is a bill to stop pipelines because there is a lot of ministerial discretion. In other words, the minister of Environment can step up at various points in the process and say this project is approved or this project is turned down before the process of review is even complete,” said May.
She agreed that the minister should not have that level of discretion.
“You should make sure you reviewed a project fully and then a minister can make the ultimate decision. There’s no need for that kind of discretion,” said May. “So on that, and on that only, I would agree with Conservative senators.”
Yet, she believes the bill can be fixed.
It just needs good amendments.