The Tories are at it again

I would love to believe that the Conservative Party of Canada takes sustainability seriously. I really would. Though I believe it is a false choice, I could at least take seriously their mentality of a “careful approach to sustainability that does not harm the economy,” if they did not pull tactics like this.

In the C-9 budget implementation bill, wonderfully named the Jobs and Economic Growth Act, the Tories are trying to sneak through legislation that would gut one of the most fundamental pieces of environmental legislation in the country, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). The act was created to ensure that the environmental impacts of projects are carefully assessed before getting the green light to move ahead.

If passed, Bill C-9 would strip the task of environmental assessment of pipeline and nuclear energy projects from the CEAA. It would hand the duties to the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, both of which do not have the needed experience in environmental assessments and, according to some environmentalists, are too closely tied to industry. The bill would allow large projects to avoid detailed environmental assessments by breaking them up into smaller pieces.

Oh, and the bill would allow major projects to be exempted from environmental assessments.

Wait, what?

Environmental assessments are a crucial process designed to ensure that projects do not cause irreversible environmental damage. The proposed changes would allow reckless projects to move forward without adequate foresight.

Regardless of the damage this amendment could potentially cause, these changes have absolutely no place being in a budget implementation bill as they have nothing to do with implementing the budget.

These changes sought by the Conservative government have ominous implications, especially at a time when we are witnessing possibly the worst environmental disaster in history.

“As Canadians’ eyes turn towards the BP oil spill unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, many of us are asking if such an event could happen here,” wrote Josh Brandon, a colleague of mine at the non-profit Resource Conservation Manitoba, in a recent press release.

“By gutting environmental assessments we increase the chances that the next global environmental disaster will occur in Canada’s Beaufort Sea or foul a river or neighbourhood here in Manitoba. Without strong environmental protections, disasters are only a matter of time.”

Canada must be careful not to fall into thinking that a disaster like the BP spill could not happen here. As a press release from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) points out, just days before the Gulf of Mexico disaster, BP was lobbying the Canadian government to remove the very protections in Canada that BP lacked in the Gulf.

If the destructive CEAA changes proposed by the Conservatives were placed into a separate bill, the Liberals and NDP would likely not support it. But because Bill C-9 deals with the budget, voting the bill down could result in an election. The Liberals and NDP will not stand up to these disgraceful tactics because they are not ready for an election.

Our only chance to prevent the undermining of the CEAA may be in the Senate. Senators can vote to make amendments to the bill without fear of provoking an election. I urge you to help get this bill reformed by writing to your Senator. Do some research to see if you agree with me. If you are strapped for time, there is a ready-made letter from the Green Party ( you can attach your name to and send to the party leaders.

We all want the economy to stabilize, but I think most Canadians understand that it does not have to be at the expense of the environment, and that Bill C-9 would undermine our interests in the long run. The Conservative Party must move past the 20th century misconception that economic health must come at the expense of ecological health, lest we be faced with a bill that could undo decades of environmental progress, quietly and without debate. Let’s show the government that we will be anything but quiet on Bill C-9.

Sean Goertzen works for the non-profit Resource Conservation Manitoba, encouraging children to walk and bike to school, and is entering his fourth year of Environmental Studies in the fall.