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Bill C-38: undermining our environment and democracyPosted: May 31, 2012

Letter to the Editor

We are facing one of the largest threats to clean air, water and wild spaces in Canadian history. Buried within the 452-page 2012 Federal Budget, Bill C-38, are staggering changes to the laws that protect our environment and require community concerns be addressed before proceeding with projects. These changes are designed to fast track industrial projects at the cost of the environment and the ability of communities to have their voices heard.

Major revisions of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act should require committee review and public input. However, these changes are hidden deep within the Federal Budget Omnibus Bill. Canadians have worked for decades to ensure proper legislation exists to protect environmental and community values, yet in a matter of weeks, this work could be unraveled and replaced with legislation that limits the public’s voice in these decisions and threatens hard won protections for our water, air and environment. While people across the country are speaking out against environmental, social and economic impacts that threaten their communities, Bill C-38 is designed to silence their voices.

Two core Canadian values, nature and democracy, are being threatened. Wildsight has joined with environmental groups, workers and small businesses across the country in the Black Out Speak Out campaign in order to alert Canadians to the threats of Bill C-38 which include weakened protection for fish and species at risk, an entirely new – and less comprehensive – environmental assessment law, broad decision making powers for Cabinet and Ministers, less government transparency and accountability, and fewer opportunities for public participation in decisions that affect us and our air and water.

Here is a short list of some of the changes proposed in Bill C-38:

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act would be replaced with a new Act that will significantly shrink the number of projects reviewed and give the government the power to exempt projects from having to undergo an environmental assessment.

The federal government intends to offload the responsibility of environmental assessments and implementation of federal Acts, such as the Fisheries Act, to the provinces at a time when provincial ministries are consistently shrinking. Last year, the Auditor General released a scathing report on the lack of oversight provided by the BC Environmental Assessment process.

There will be more backroom decisions as cabinet ministers make political decisions on projects subject to the Fisheries Act and the Environmental Assessment Act with limited scientific input and curtailed public engagement.

Rescinding of the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act will remove accountability for our global commitment to reduce carbon emissions. Shutting down the National Roundtable on the Economy and the Environment represents another loss to Canadians ability to make informed decisions.

The Fisheries Act will no longer apply to all fish, but only to commercial, recreational or aboriginal fisheries and their habitats. Provincial governments could be given decision-making power for protecting fish and their habitat within a framework of reduced protection for fisheries.

Permits for activities that impact Species At Risk will no longer be reviewed. This could allow environmental degradation to continue them despite significant impacts on species.

Cabinet will be empowered to override decisions by the National Energy Board regarding project reviews. The National Energy Board will no longer be required to consider impacts to Species at Risk prior to approvals, for example, pipeline projects.

Public participation in resource review panel hearings, particularly major oil projects, pipelines and mines will be significantly limited, both in duration and who can participate.

Bill C-38 will weaken environmental laws and silence community voices. Wildsight believes it is critical to understand the proposed changes and to stand up for nature and democracy.

John Bergenske,

Wildsight Executive Director

 

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