Speech on Budget 2010 Implementation Act

Democracy should trump dirty tricks in budget bill

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to voice my disappointment with the Budget implementation act.

In this time of economic uncertainty, the government has seen fit to ram through changes to legislation in the budget implementation act; rather than following the established democratic process. In our parliamentary democracy, it is customary for the government to bring forward changes it wants to make here in the house, and then allow debate by honorable members, the representatives of the people, on their behalf.

This government chose to go another route, it chose to hide substantive policy changes in the implementation of the budget. As you, and every member of this house knows Mr. Speaker, that amounts to a kind of democratic blackmail. That is not only undemocratic, it’s just plain wrong.

In what has become a disturbing pattern, the government again this year incorporated into its budget implementation Bill major changes to environmental safeguards.

Last year’s budget bill took a slice out of federal duties to assess environmental impacts of projects with potential impacts to the navigable waters of Canada. It moved to exempt all federal stimulus funded projects from any assessment previously triggered by water way impacts, or if the federal contribution was under $10 million.

Mr. Speaker, the beautiful province of British Columbia, my province, has hundreds of rivers, and this change put them in serious danger. These are just the sorts of changes that Canadians want to see their representatives of this house discuss, and that debate is completely eliminated when the government pushes through legislation in the background of the budget implementation bill. This year’s budget bill, however, swings an ax at a crucial environmental law: Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. And Mr. Speaker, the axe cuts deep.

What is most disturbing is the process by which this law is being eviscerated. Parliament, has moved that a review of the law be undertaken this year, and recommendations for reform be made. The review is already slated to come before the Parliamentary Committee on Environment and Sustainable development within weeks. Instead the government has chosen to short circuit this process. Instead of hearing and considering the views of interested stakeholders and other concerned parties, it has chosen to fast track the changes through this budget bill.

Bill C-9 transfers reviews of major energy projects from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. The effect is a diminishment of public representation. Neither the NEB nor the NSC are equipped to conduct community consultation, nor do either have previous experience with these sorts of projects. It also removes from the public clear access to intervener funds that would allow groups and individuals to make themselves heard, and lesson’s the requirements to consider environmental factors when proceeding with a project. Secondly , and Mr. Speaker this is most troubling, the Minister of Environment will be empowered to narrow the scope of any environmental assessment, which sets a dangerous precedent. This mean that, at the discretion of the minister, a project can be approved based on an assessment of only part of its overall environmental impact. In January of this year Mr. Speaker, the Supreme Court of Canada found that Government failed to follow federal laws by ‘scoping’ the Red Chris mine project in northern BC to exclude the mine and the mill in order to avoid a comprehensive assessment and public input. What C-9 therefore means to do is remove from the public this any recourse for requiring consultation.

In addition, C-9 also removes one of the key triggers for federal assessment, federal spending. The limit for federal spending that would require an assessment is all but completely removed, with almost all federal stimulus funded projects to be exempted. The bill will exempt from environmental assessments all projects falling under the Building Canada Fund, the Green Infrastructure Fund, the Recreational Infrastructure fund, the Border Infrastructure Fund, the Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund, and more. Such projects range from transmission lines running for thousands of kilometres to road extensions, new bridges, and interchanges. The NDP motion to enable the Finance Committee to split the bill provides the opportunity to defer study and vote on the environmental reform measures until the Environment Committee review is completed, a matter of a few short months. Regrettably the government maneuvered to prevent this constructive solution to proceed. Addressing long term environmental or heath impacts should not be shunted aside for short term political gain from fast-tracked project approvals. Ultimately, Mr. Speaker, its Canadians who will pay the cost. With these changes Mr. Speaker one has to wonder at what the future holds for the Enbridge pipeline project. Having just presented the proposal last week, will it be subject to the scrutiny and public consultation that is so necessarily needed? Or will the Minister narrow the scope and allow 225 oil tankers to sail along our coast every year? The people of northern British Columbia want to be consulted Mr. Speaker, and C-9 effectively silences them.

Mr. Speaker, my time runs short, so let me briefly say that the budget still has so many shortcomings. It has yet to fund a national transit strategy, in fact in my riding the evergreen line is still desperately in need of funding. It invests over a billion of dollars in a 3 day event rather than putting much needed police officers on the streets in every Canadian community. There is no money for a real affordable housing strategy in this country. The department of fisheries and oceans remains underfunded, under resourced and understaffed. Mr. Speaker, I hope that all the honorable members will support the motion brought forward by my honorable collegue from Edmonton-Strathcona and vote these measures out of C-9.