A think tank report said the bill risks “significantly prolonging the assessment process,” but a federal spokeswoman countered that it’s a huge improvement from the “broken system” inherited from the ConservativesARTHUR WHITE-CRUMMEY, REGINA LEADER-POST Updated: February 22, 2019
Those taking aim at proposed federal changes to environmental assessments for major resource projects just got new ammunition, after a Canadian think tank released a report warning of “fundamental problems” in Bill C-69.
The bill, which would overhaul the process for approving pipelines, mines and oil and gas extraction projects, is now winding its way through the Senate. Critics have referred to it as the “anti-pipeline bill” and pushed senators to reverse what they say are new hurdles for already-strained development in the sector.
On Thursday, a study from the C.D. Howe Institute warned that the bill “looks likely to worsen Canada’s present disease.”
The “disease” is one of plummeting investment, according to the study. It found that planned investment in major resource projects has “plunged” by roughly $100 billion between 2017 and 2018. Over that time, 37 projects worth $77 billion were cancelled. The greatest proportional decline in planned investments was for pipelines, according to the data provided.
Annual capital spending in energy projects was down $50 billion in 2018, compared with figures from a peak in 2014. That came during a global downturn, but fell more steeply that elsewhere.
But Natural Resources Canada countered that the Liberal government inherited a “broken system” from the Conservatives. An email from the press secretary to Minister Amarjeet Sohi said that the government has “delivered” for the energy sector, pointing to the recently approved LNG Canada project in B.C. as a notable example.
“We are making the process more predictable and timely through early, inclusive and meaningful public engagement; partnerships with Indigenous peoples and timely decisions based on the best available science and Indigenous knowledge,” Vanessa Adams stated.
“These are necessary changes that will give investors the certainty they need, while delivering a process Canadians can trust.”
She said the existing legislation, enacted in 2012 under the Conservative government, “failed to meet the needs of resource industries.” According to Adams, the C.D. Howe study backs that up. The research pointed to years-long delays that exceed those in competing countries, notably Australia and the United States.
But the study’s authors believe the new legislation won’t solve the underlying problems. While Bill C-69 includes timelines to ensure projects get done faster, the study calls them “aspirational.”
With more factors to consider, and potentially thousands of interveners welcome at the table, they call the proposed approval framework a recipe for even more gridlock. It risks “significantly prolonging the assessment process,” they warned, potentially causing a further hit to investment.
“The federal government’s proposed Bill C-69 could further discourage investment in the sector by congesting the assessment process with wider public policy concerns and exacerbating the political uncertainty,” the study says.
It also warns of increased “politicization” in the new process. Previously, only projects found to have significant environmental impacts came to the minister for final approval. Under the proposed changes, politicians would have the final say on almost any project, according to the institute’s reading of the bill.
“The new regime could substantially increase political risk for proposed projects,” it says.