The dust is still settling on the Government of Canada’s latest Bill C-69 decisions. It seems clear that no one will get exactly what they want. Certainly, the Alberta government and the oil industry oppose the Bill in its current state and are not optimistic about future major infrastructure projects. Here is what we know to date.
Purpose of Bill C-69
Bill C-69 is about how the federal government will review and approve future major infrastructure projects. Examples include interprovincial pipelines, mines, and interprovincial highways. Bill C-69 also creates the Impact Assessment Agency to oversee the review process.
Bill C-69 was intended to replace the flawed and politicized review process brought in by the Harper government. That process has resulted in frequent delays and court challenges. Previous to that, the National Energy Board had independently reviewed projects and cabinet had heard appeals.
In April 2018, Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU) submitted recommendations regarding Bill C-69 on behalf of Canada’s 500,000+ building trades workers. CBTU called for:
- A seat for labour at the table (representation on review panels)
- The incorporation of a Community Benefit Agreement or labour plan agreement strategy (so that plans would include contractual obligations for training, apprenticeship, and employment opportunities for Indigenous and local communities)
- Measures to speed up the review process (a single review process rather than layering provincial or local reviews on top of the federal review; a cap of 2 years total review time including early planning)
- De-politicization of the review process and greater weighting to scientific and technical expertise
- Tighter controls over who gets to intervene in the review process to ensure it isn’t highjacked by those just seeking delays.
Bill C-69’s impact will be enormous, particularly for landlocked Alberta, which lacks the pipeline capacity to move current – let alone future increased – oil production to market. Increased pipeline capacity is vital to future investment – and building trades jobs – in the oil industry.
House of Commons Passes Bill C-69
Bill C-69 as originally passed by the House of Commons didn’t answer our concerns, Alberta’s concerns, or the concerns of other oil industry stakeholders. It was roundly condemned as being likely to compound the problems it was supposed to prevent:
- Uncertainties for all stakeholders, including investors
- Prolonged project reviews
- Increased risk of legal challenges
- A politicized review process.
Having moved through the House of Commons, Bill C-69 went to the Senate for review. The Senate Energy Committee undertook an extensive review, involving stakeholders across Canada. It proposed significant amendments. CBTU again presented on behalf of Canada’s building trades members.
The Alberta government and industry proponents offered general approval of the proposed amendments.
Bill C-69 then went back to the Senate, which passed it with 229 amendments. The amended Bill addressed most of Alberta’s major concerns, and Premier Kenney urged the government of Canada to pass the bill as amended.
Back to the House of Commons
The next step was for the government of Canada to decide what changes to make prior to passing the Bill.
The government accepted 62 of the 229 amendments without changes and an additional 37 with changes. The Liberal government rejected almost all amendments proposed by Conservative senators and supported by the Alberta government. Most of those amendments were identical to proposals put forward by oil industry representatives.
In procedural terms, Bill C-69 was next destined to go through debate in the House of Commons and then back to the Senate where it could be passed or defeated. What will the outcomes be if the government’s amended Bill C-69 are finally enacted?
- The review process may be less politicized. The Impact Assessment Agency rather than the Environment Minister will have most power over changes to review timelines.
- The review process may not take as long. There is no hard cap on timelines. However, project proponents must provide more information during the planning stage so that stakeholders can raise concerns sooner in the process. Participation in hearings will be determined “in a manner that the agency considers appropriate”, which may lessen nuisance interventions designed to derail or delay projects. And the government will be able to legislate timelines.
- Economic interests will be considered but not outweigh other considerations such as the environment and the rights of indigenous people. One of the amendments calls for a “fair, predictable and efficient process for conducting impact assessments that enhances Canada’s competitiveness, encourages innovation in the carrying out of designated projects and creates opportunities for sustainable economic development”.
- Meaningful environmental review and consultations with Indigenous people must be part of the review process.
- The federal cabinet retains its right over final approval of a project.
To date, most reactions have been predictable.
- Liberals argue that the Conservative amendments would have made a mockery of environmental reviews.
- The Environmental groups are largely in favour of the amendments accepted by the Liberal government but wanted it to go further.
- Conservatives counter that Bill C-69 would all but prevent future infrastructure projects, including pipeline and oil sands projects.
- The oil industry, as represented by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association condemned the Bill. The (CEPA).
- On 15 June, a pro-energy development rally of some 4000 people in Calgary loudly protested against Bill C-69.
- The Mining Association of Canada has given its approval of Bill C-69, arguing it is an improvement over current practice.
- Alberta has threatened a constitutional challenge of Bill C-69.
"When Alberta agreed to the repatriation of the Canadian constitution in 1982, one of its conditions of signing was a provision that reserves exclusive jurisdiction for natural resources to the province and that’s the primary area where this bill intrudes.” - Savage— Daily Oil Bulletin (@JWN_DOB) June 13, 2019
What Does It All Mean?
What does it all mean for Alberta and for oil industry stakeholders like the BTA and its members?
A decision is expected this coming week. As things stand, we are being asked to take on faith that the process will be less political, with fewer delays, and with sustainable economic development balanced against meaningful environmental review, consultations with Indigenous people, and attention to regional and provincial concerns.
What seems clearest is that we don’t know what the outcomes of Bill C-69 will be. We all feel the uncertainty. And that’s not good for Alberta, our oil industry, or Building Trades of Alberta members.