Proposed changes to Bill C-69 — a bill that would overhaul how energy projects like pipelines would be evaluated and approved based on environmental impact — will be going under the microscope starting Tuesday, as a Senate committee examines amendments.
Independent, Liberal and Conservative senators are among the groups presenting amendments in the clause-by-clause review of the over 400-page bill.
“It’s going to be a little bit like two little boys in the playground — whose is bigger, whose is better?” Independent Alberta Senator Paula Simons told Rob Breakenridge on 770 CHQR. “I happen to think our package of amendments is extremely strong.”
In a release, the Independent senators said their amendments aim to provide clarity and predictability in the project assessment and approval process, reduce litigation, reduce ministerial discretion and lean more on expertise of life-cycle regulators.
LISTEN: Senator Doug Black joins Rob Breakenridge to discuss Independent senators’ proposed amendments to Bill C-69
Senator Doug Black, also an Independent Alberta senator, told Breakenridge industry groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association are optimistic for future energy projects if his groups’ amendments are adopted.
“They are telling me that if the package of amendments that we have put forward are accepted, that they believe they have a reasonable opportunity of getting back to business,” Black said Tuesday.
“But the moment there’s any suggestion that this bill will hamper our ability to build pipelines and the projects that Alberta needs… I am absolutely about ensuring it does not advance.”
The amount of discretion given to a minister of any political stripe in approving energy projects was a major concern for Independent senators.
“That was a concern, not just that extended timelines and could have taken a project forever, but that there could be political interference at so many points,” Simons said Tuesday.
Simons said she and her fellow Independents leaned on Ontario Senator Howard Wetston’s expertise as a former federal court judge and former CEO of the Ontario Energy Board to draw up an amendment to rein in the possibility of ministerial interference.
“We’re going to suggest that, instead of giving that power to the minister, that that power belongs to the regulator, the objective arms length regulator, who’s actually doing the work and that they have to provide reasons any time they stop the clock,” the Alberta senator said.
LISTEN: Senator Paula Simons discusses some of the amendments Independent senators are bringing to committee over Bill C-69
Simons said Wetston also made a suggestion to protect the independence of the chair of the review panel, as well as some general Bill-related housekeeping.
“For example, an amendment which would grandfather in TMX [Trans Mountain Expansion], to ensure that TMX wouldn’t have to start all over again with this new regulatory regime, that it would still be grandfathered under the old one,” Simons said.
“That’s a very commonsense provision which isn’t in the existing bill.”
Those are among the nearly 200 amendments to be discussed Tuesday evening in Ottawa.
“With luck, we’ll have a package of amendments that the whole committee agrees on and we take it back to the chamber,” Simons said. “If that doesn’t happen a bill can still be amended in the chamber at third reading.
“That’s not my preference because it’s a lot of amending.”
WATCH BELOW: Jason Kenney calls Bill C-69 a full-frontal attack on Alberta economic prosperity
While Black calls the version of the bill that passed the House of Commons “a dog’s breakfast,” Simons credited Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi with bringing to attention the dire state of the bill when considered with Canada’s energy industry.
“I think, as natural resources minister, he understood the flaws in the bill and I think he’s been working quietly and effectively within his own caucus to get them to see that amendments have to be made.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney spoke to senate committees in late April and early May about Bills C-69 — which Kenney calls the “no more pipelines bill” — and C-48 — the “tanker ban bill” — but didn’t call for C-69 to be scrapped altogether.
“He said, in fact, he supported the amendments brought forward by Rachel Notley, which was very interesting,” Simons said. “Indeed, some of those amendments which were originally presented to us by Alberta’s previous premier have found their way into our our proposed amendments to the bill.
“I don’t know that it will answer all of Premier Kenney’s concerns, but I think it will address a great many of them.”
While a granular comparison of amendments of a bill that has already passed the House of Commons with the hopes to change that bill could easily be compared to fight an uphill battle, Simons hasn’t lost hope.
“We’re Albertans, we can go uphill.”