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SilenceOnParle

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Although this is intended be a local blog and is not meant to be overtly political, I can no longer ignore the sweeping changes to environmental legislation that are about to be enacted by Canada’s federal government.

On April 26, 2012, the Harper government tabled its budget implementation bill, Bill C-38. But this bill is not just about the budget.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May has called the bill the “single biggest assault on environmental law” (How the Conservatives stole environmental protection in broad daylight).

Among other things, the bill would significantly alter the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, changing the criteria for what projects need to be assessed, how and by who, and it would repeal the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act.

While I’d like to believe the government’s claims that changes to the environmental review process are intended to remove duplication and make it more efficient, in light of the Harper government’s other actions — such as labelling environmental groups opposing oilsands development as “adversaries” while referring to industry associations as “allies”, not to mention recent cuts to Environment Canada’s budget — I am a little worried.

No. I am very worried.

On the day the bill was tabled, Elizabeth May wrote, “putting all this in the Budget Implementation (Bill C-38) means that none of the environmental laws being changed will ever go to the Environment committee or hear from environmental experts. Nine environmental laws are changed. (I can’t think of any environmental law that isn’t touched.)” (Elizabeth May Comments on Bill C-38 Budget Implementation)

However, the Conservatives have refused demands from the opposition to split the bill into parts to allow for more thorough debate.

And since the Conservatives hold a majority in the House of Commons and the Senate, it is pretty certain this bill will be passed.

So I called my MP

When things like this happen, I receive emails from groups like the Sierra Club imploring me to contact my Member of Parliament (MP). So last week, that’s what I did.

My MP is Irwin Cotler. Given that he is a Liberal and a fierce defender of social justice and environmental issues, I knew he would be on my side. He is.

Speaking about Bill C-38 in Parliament on May 3, he stated that many of the proposals it contains “have particularly deleterious consequences for the environment” and that the bill would “overhaul, weaken and undermine the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and environmental protection as a whole”. (See full speech: A sad chapter in Canadian parliamentary history)

So the second question I asked in my email to Mr. Cotler was this: “What can citizens do to voice their opinion? For example, I have repeatedly been told to call my MP (on this and other matters), but if you already agree with me, how will this help?”

In a fairly detailed reply, one of Mr. Cotler’s assistants acknowledged that while telling your MP or Senator how you feel about a piece of legislation is important, in a majority Parliament, this may only go so far.

“What is more important is citizen advocacy and engagement — talking to your friends and neighbours — about this bill, its consequences and the manner in which it is being rushed through Parliament,” he wrote. “With a critical mass of advocacy the government might be persuaded to moderate its view, and if not, they must be held to account at the ballot box.”

He also encouraged me to submit a petition, which my MP could present. “This process allows the issue to be raised — reminding the Government that there is opposition on the issue — and requiring a response from them within 45 sitting days,” he explained.

While I admit I probably won’t be organizing a petition, citizen advocacy and engagement is precisely what I’m trying to do with this blog.

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Additional reading:

Environment laws getting facelift to accelerate projects: Joe Oliver, The Montreal Gazette, May 8, 2012

Feds set Canada back 50 years on environment regulations: critics, The Hill Times online, May 1, 2012,

Opposition MPs demand separate environment bill, CBC, April 27, 2012

Budget bill puts environmental laws on chopping block, EcoJustice, April 26,

Ottawa to unveil sweeping changes to environmental oversight, Globe and Mail, April 17, 2012

 


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