OTTAWA — Leaders from oil-rich provinces heaped criticism on Ottawa’s proposed energy reforms Thursday, warning that an absence of major amendments to Bill C-69 could choke off new pipeline projects proposed by the oil and gas sector.
In Senate committee hearings, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said that if the legislation is passed in its current form, major pipelines will continue to meet years-long legal delays and shrink investment in the province’s resource sector.
“The only people making money will be lawyers,” she said.
Bill C-69 would introduce sweeping reforms to the review process for major energy projects, including anything from diamond mines to hydro dams.
The bill has become a rallying cry for alienated Western voters ever since Ottawa purchased the Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion last August, effectively nationalizing the project after its private-sector owner threatened to scrap it. Trans Mountain and other pipelines, such as Keystone XL and Northern Gateway, have been hindered or outright rejected in recent years due to prolonged regulatory and legal delays, prompting deep frustrations in the oil and gas sector.
Notley said that Trudeau’s willingness to buy the pipeline seems to contradict the overall effects of Bill C-69, which she said could discourage companies from proposing new pipelines.
“It kind of leaves us shaking our heads,” she said.
The senate also heard from the premier of Newfoundland premier and Saskatchewan’s energy minister, both of whom put forward significant amendments to the bill.
Testimony from the three witnesses largely focused on a lack of detail they say is provided in the bill. Opposition has repeatedly said that the bill sets out broad aspirations about how to review major projects, but leaves deep uncertainty around what projects will be subject to federal review, whether the review process can be paused, and how much discretion will be left to the federal environment minister.
Notley has repeatedly called on Ottawa to release its project list, which outlines which developments will fall under the new regulatory regime. Without writing such regulations into the legislation itself, she warned the bill could remain shrouded in uncertainty.
“You can’t build trust by saying ‘trust us,’” she said. “You build trust by putting it on paper.”
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball also called on Ottawa to release the list. The province has expressed concerns over whether offshore exploration wells will be included under the new regulatory regime, saying that it could lengthen timelines for early-stage work.
“Until we get the clarity and confidence that’s required, people will stand back and not make the investments that we think are critical at this point in time,” he said. He also called on the government to leave certain regulatory power to the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, which currently overseas such projects.
Newfoundland Energy Minister Siobhan Coady also pressed for more details on the bill.
“I keep hearing about policy intent, but I’m not seeing it,” she said. “And it really needs to be enshrined in legislation.”
She said that if offshore exploration wells are subject to federal review, timelines for those projects could extend well beyond other countries like the United Kingdom and Norway.
A spokesperson for Environment Minister Catherine McKenna did not address specific amendments proposed by provincial leaders in a written statement Thursday.
“While they do suggest amendments, Premiers Notley and Ball have supported the timely passage of Bill C-69,” it said. “They indicated very clearly that the bill could address the issues they raise with the current flawed system.”
Many of those who oppose Bill C-69 have nonetheless pointed to weaknesses in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA), the current regulatory system introduced by Stephen Harper as part of an omnibus budget bill in 2012.
Saskatchewan Energy Minister Bronwyn Eyre acknowledged the flaws in the current system, but said that Bill C-69 would still be more damaging to resource-rich provinces.
“The question is whether there needs to be a bill this sweeping and this tendentious ideologically to overturn everything we have,” she said.
Notley called the CEAA 2012 regime “broken” and “misguided,” and said it would be better to simply amend Bill C-69 rather than to scrap the current act.
“I’m not one of these people that will say scrap the bill, because frankly the alternative is not certainty either,” Notley said. “What we need to do is get it right.”
Pierre Gratton, head of the Mining Association of Canada, has long supported the current bill, saying it is an improvement from the 2012 regime. However, the association has also put forward a handful of amendments.
Mining firms have more readily supported the legislation. Gratton can only recall three mines in recent memory that were actually rejected by federal regulatory bodies. The Prosperity copper-gold mine proposed by Taseko Mines Ltd. was rejected for the second time in 2014 under the Conservatives, while another copper mine named Kemess North was rejected in 2008. The Liberals rejected the proposed Ajax copper mine near Kamloops, B.C., in 2018.
Gratton said he supports the early engagement aspect of C-69, what he calls the central innovation of the bill.
“It could go a long way to avoiding those rejections, because you’ve got that opportunity early on to engage with the communities to find out what the showstoppers are,” he said.
Bill C-69 was first introduced to the Senate in December 2018. The Senate energy committee also debated on Thursday whether it would travel across Canada to meet with witnesses as part of its study of the bill.