|Environmental groups, First Nations join in opposition to omnibus Bill C-45
November 21, 2012. Massive bill before Parliament further undermines Canadian democracy and environment, groups say in open letter
Coast Salish Territory / Vancouver BC / Toronto ON – First Nations and environmental, recreation and grassroots groups supported by more than half a million Canadians today issued an open letter opposing the federal government’s controversial second omnibus bill, C-45, as the proposed legislation enters final rounds of debate in Parliament this week.
“The changes proposed in this omnibus bill would further weaken Canada’s environmental laws, remove critical federal safeguards, and reduce opportunities for the public to have their say about major industrial projects that could threaten the air, water, soil and natural ecosystems on which all Canadians, and our economy, depend,” they said in the letter.
The signatories include the BC Assembly of First Nations, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, leading environmental organizations, including the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, Équiterre, and the World Wildlife Fund, and groups from different sectors, nationwide (see below).
The organizations are speaking out against Bill C-45’s deregulation of some of Canada’s key environmental laws, including major changes being proposed to the Navigable Waters Protection Act that would see just 97 of Canada’s approximately 32,000 major lakes protected by the stripped-down act. Major pipelines would also be exempted under the new law, meaning that the scope of impacts considered during environmental reviews will be narrower.
“Simply put, lakes, rivers and streams often stand in the path of large industrial development, particularly pipelines. This bill, combined with last spring’s changes, hands oil, gas and other natural resource extraction industries a free pass to degrade Canada’s rich natural legacy,” said Devon Page, executive director of Ecojustice.
The latest omnibus legislation would further undermine the protection of Canada’s environment by making changes to the Fisheries Act and the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act — critical laws that are used to steward a sustainable environment, clean water and healthy oceans for all Canadians.
Meanwhile, organizations argue the bill represents a two-pronged attack on Canada’s democratic processes, seemingly designed to short-circuit parliamentary discussion of major legislative changes that would significantly reduce opportunities for public consultation.
“This week may be the last time that Members of Parliament will be able to prevent the further loss of environmental protection and public participation that this bill contemplates,” said Jessica Clogg, executive director and senior counsel, West Coast Environmental Law.
“That’s why we’re asking our elected officials to stand up, for Canada’s environment and their constituents who depend on it, and oppose this bill.”
Tabled in October, Bill C-45 follows a drastic overhaul of Canada’s federal environmental laws in the spring omnibus budget bill, C-38. The negative impacts of C-38 are already being seen on the ground and in massive staffing cuts to federal environmental departments.
In their open letter, the groups argue that Bill C-45 “further demonstrates a pattern of recklessness by the federal government that puts the long-term safety and health of Canadians in jeopardy. These are major changes that, if not stopped now, will ripple out across communities everywhere in Canada -- putting our water, air, food and quality of life at risk.”
The signatories are: l’Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique (AQLPA), BC Assembly of First Nations, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, Environmental Defence, Équiterre, Greenpeace Canada, Greenpeace Québec, Idle No More (Saskatchewan Grassroots Advocacy Group), Nature Canada, Paddle Canada, Pembina Institute, Ontario Rivers Alliance, Sierra Club Canada, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, West Coast Environmental Law, World Wildlife Fund.
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View the open letter below.
The backgrounder and media release are online:
For more information, please contact:
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President, UBCIC: 604-684-0231
Devon Page, Executive Director, Ecojustice: 604-685-5618 ext 233; 778-828-5512;
Jessica Clogg, Executive Director and Senior Counsel, West Coast Environmental Law Association: (604) 601-2501; mobile: 778-327-8964; Jessica_Clogg@wcel.org
Karel Mayrand, Directeur général, Foundation David Suzuki (Montreal); 514-871-4932; firstname.lastname@example.org
November 21, 2012
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister, and all Members of Parliament
Dear Prime Minister Harper and Members of Parliament,
We represent First Nations and environmental, recreation and grassroots groups supported by more than half a million Canadians. We are disappointed that, despite the opposition of millions of Canadians to the attacks on nature and democracy in omnibus bill C-38, the government has again chosen to rewrite some of Canada's foundational environmental protection laws by inappropriately including amendments in another massive omnibus bill, C-45.
Again, this is a two-pronged attack on our democratic processes, as this bill seems designed to short-circuit parliamentary discussion of major legislative changes that would significantly reduce opportunities for public consultation.
Bill C-45 would further undermine the protection of Canadian nature by making substantial changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA, proposed to be the Navigation Protection Act), the Fisheries Act and the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act — critical laws that were once used to steward a sustainable environment, clean water and healthy oceans for all Canadians.
Together, the changes proposed in the omnibus bill would further weaken Canada’s environmental laws, remove critical federal safeguards, and reduce opportunities for the public to have their say about projects that could threaten the air, water, soil and ecosystems on which all Canadians, and our economy, depend.
The proposed changes to the NWPA are disturbing on several levels. The result is that the vast majority of Canada’s lakes and rivers would no longer enjoy proactive federal navigation protection under the new act. Instead, concerned citizens would be forced to spend their time and money in the courts fighting to protect their rights to unobstructed waterways. For those water bodies that remain “protected,” the changes would also eliminate all automatic public participation from decision-making, allowing the minister of transport to fast-track specific projects without even notifying, let alone consulting, the public.
Changes to the Fisheries Act, also buried in the bill, would further dismantle this key environmental law by giving industry the option to request that their existing commitments to protect fish habitat be amended or cancelled, or that they be let off the hook for promised compensation for lost or damaged habitat.
The changes in Bill C-45 would also eliminate the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, an independent body charged with making science-based decisions to protect Canadians from toxic chemicals and hazardous materials in the workplace. This could result in less disclosure from companies about the chemical contents of their products. Canadians deserve accountability and transparency about the use and distribution of toxins, yet if the commission is eliminated no independent body will oversee industry requests to mask chemical contents of the products that industry uses or produces.
Bill C-45 further demonstrates a pattern of recklessness by the federal government that puts the long-term safety and health of Canadians in jeopardy. These are major changes that, if not stopped now, will ripple out across communities everywhere in Canada -- putting our water, air, food and quality of life at risk.
We urge every Member of Parliament to stand up for nature and democracy by voting for amendments to Bill C-45 that would prevent such damaging changes from being written into law.
l’Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique (AQLPA)
BC Assembly of First Nations
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society
David Suzuki Foundation
Idle No More (Saskatchewan Grassroots Advocacy Group)
Ontario Rivers Alliance
Sierra Club Canada
Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs
West Coast Environmental Law
World Wildlife Fund
UBCIC is a NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.