North Island Powell River candidates trade opposing views on Bill C-69

Federal election opponents comment on Impact Assessment Act

Candidates running in the North Island-Powell River electoral district have traded opposing views regarding the passage of Bill C-69, the Impact Assessment Act, and its implications for the future of Canada’s climate policy and fossil fuel industry.

The bill, which passed through the Senate of Canada on June 21, sets up a new advisory body to assess major infrastructural projects, such as pipelines and highways, and their potential impacts on the environment, public health and indigenous communities.

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While noting some “positives” in the bill’s enabling of more rigorous impact assessments, NDP incumbent MP Rachel Blaney said those were outweighed by “serious problems.”

“This gives the minister far too much discretionary power, and too many projects are exempt from the process altogether,” added Blaney. “An NDP government would remove the discretionary powers so that decisions are made based on the science and on the impact on communities and the environment.”

The Green Party’s Mark de Bruijn shared some of Blaney’s concerns, adding that many public recommendations were absent from the final bill.

“Before C-69 was presented for parliamentary assent, there was an extensive public consultation process to garner input from the public,” said de Bruijn. “Virtually all these recommendations were ignored.”

On the other side of the spectrum, meanwhile, sits the Conservative Party’s Shelley Downey, who argued the bill complicates the review process and jeopardizes the viability of future projects.

“We can expect to see the Impact Assessment Act challenged in the courts and further delays in getting projects done in a timely manner in Canada, if at all,” said Downey. “We need to expand pipelines in Canada in order to reduce the price differential between West Texas Intermediate [crude oil] and Western Canada Select [crude oil].”

Downey’s criticisms echo those of a coalition of six conservative provincial premiers, who stated in a joint letter last month that Bill C-69 threatened national unity. Notably, the final version of the bill struck down a number of Conservative-tabled amendments in the Senate that some executives from the fossil fuel industry said would have made the legislation more amenable to investment.

However, the Liberal Party’s Peter Schwarzhoff rebuked both the federal Conservatives and the alliance of premiers for invoking threats against national unity, and for, as he sees it, overstating the risks the bill poses to investment.

“[Conservative Party leader] Andrew Scheer has promised oil lobbyists that he would kill Bill C-69 if he is elected; that’s a recipe for economic problems, social tensions and environmental damage,” said Scwarzhoff. “It should be possible to debate differing points of view without threatening to break up the country. Bill C-69 does not kill pipelines, it ensures that they can be built only in the right way, with due respect to First Nations’ rights and with the highest possible environmental safeguards.”

Blaney added her own criticisms against the alliance of right-leaning premiers and Scheer, arguing those leaders lack any real plan for tackling global warming.

“Politicians like [Alberta premier Jason] Kenney and Scheer want to pretend the climate crisis already impacting our communities and the many reports like the IPCC report on climate change don’t exist, and we can carry on as we always have,” she said. “We know that’s just not true.”

de Bruijn, meanwhile, slammed the conservative alliance for spreading, as he put it, “the politics of fear and divisiveness.”

“In contrast to this rhetoric,” he said, “the pipeline and oil and gas sector is cheering in the back room that C-69 is so vague, open to interpretation, and industry-friendly.”

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