In your editorial last week entitled “Gutting the Fisheries Act”, Osgoode Hall lawyer Gus Van Harten characterized the recent federal government’s budget as “a disguised and brutal assault on Canadian environmental law”.
That seemed a little extreme coming from an academic who usually lectures on administrative and economic law, so I did some investigation. Here is some of the background.
Twelve MPs on the parliamentary Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development reviewed the existing Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) between October 2011 and March 2012. They held 18 meetings that required 33 hours of hearings and received testimony from 39 important expert witnesses plus their 40 written submissions.
Our local MP, Earl Dreeshen, participated as an observer. That review of the 1995 Act was itself required by law.
The committee’s report provided the basis for the revisions to the CEAA that are now included in the “Omnibus Bill” C-38. So Van Harten’s “brutality” was actually the product of the parliamentary committee process led by a majority government.
His parallel concerns about changes to the Fisheries Act are not relevant to the Sylvan Lake setting. Our ecologically sensitive areas, particularly the fish habitat at the northwest end of the lake, will still be protected by the requirements of the updated act. For example, modifications of the lake by dredging or construction still require regulatory approval. The scales of fish justice are still balanced.
It’s well known that the old environmental assessment act was abused by the anti-capitalist green movement that opposed and confounded attempts by resource industry corporations to improve Canada’s economy with major project investments.
Some of that coordinated opposition has been funded by politically motivated U.S. granting foundations that have made very large “charitable” donations to domestic environmental organizations that interfere with, obstruct and delay economic progress in our resource-rich western provinces. Fortunately the Canada Revenue Agency is now investigating violations of our tax laws by those groups.
Modernizing and streamlining environmental law to accelerate reviews and decisions on projects that will benefit Canada does make sense. The new acts continue to provide environmental protections and opportunities for comment by public, business, environmental organizations and First Nations within reasonable time limits.
The downside, of course, is that Prof. Van Harten’s colleagues in the legal profession will soon find that their billable hours will decline when the new CEAA kicks in.