OTTAWA—The Senate’s energy and environment committee wants to take the Liberal government’s major project assessment legislation on a road tour as the clock ticks on the final session of Parliament before this year’s election.
Paula Simons, an independent senator from Alberta, sponsored the motion that received unanimous consent in the committee Tuesday, after Conservative members opposed to Bill C-69 waged a public campaign for the Red Chamber to hold its own public hearings on the legislation.
Introduced last year, Bill C-69 seeks to overhaul how major projects like oil pipelines, mines and hydro dams are assessed for approval. It creates a new body called the Impact Assessment Agency to lead reviews for all major projects, instead of leaving the process to regulatory bodies like the National Energy Board, which specialize in certain sectors.
The bill also caps the length of a review at 300 days—not including a new, preliminary phase for consultations and planning—and broadens the scope of factors under assessment to include not just environmental impacts, but also climate change, Indigenous reconciliation and effects of a project on people of different genders.
The Liberal government has maintained these changes are necessary to restore public confidence in how major projects are assessed, arguing its Conservative predecessors created a flawed system that needs to be overhauled.
But the bill has also become a focal point of opposition to the Trudeau government, with federal Conservatives lampooning the legislation as the “No New Pipelines Act” that, along with the Liberals’ carbon price plan, will drive away investment and harm the economy.
Simons called her motion a “consensus” proposal that balanced the desire of some senators to hear from more Canadians with those concerned with the need to pass it into law before Parliament breaks in June.
“There’s a real concern on my part that this get done in a timely fashion,” Simons said.
She added that touring new regions could let senators hear new perspectives on the bill. The next step will be for the committee leadership to agree to a plan, which will involve separate hearings in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ottawa and somewhere in the West, Simons said. The final plan would also need to be approved by the Senate’s committee on internal economy.
“We’re thinking about maybe going to smaller communities, to Indigenous communities, to oil-and-gas communities, to speak to people really on the ground,” she said.
Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk said many of the independent senators in the committee were worried hearings could delay the bill, but that it’s more important to hear from Canadians who will be affected by the proposed changes.
Source: ALEX BALLINGALL Ottawa Bureau
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