The Green Party scored two major legislative points this week when it won the support of the Conservative-dominated House of Commons' natural resources committee to make amendments to Bill C-46, the Pipeline Safety Act.
It's a rare circumstance in the current parliamentary climate to have any opposition amendments passed in committee. In fact, these are the first Green Party amendments to a government bill ever adopted.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said she is "just so pleased."
"I can hardly believe it happened," she said in an interview with CBC News.
It's just nice to, once again, establish that every member of Parliament can make a difference in Parliament. - Elizabeth May, Green Party leader
The committee voted to adopt two of 18 amendments her party had put forward.
The first amendment enables aboriginal governing bodies to be reimbursed for actions they take in relation to a spill. Originally, the bill outlined that those at fault in a spill would only be liable for "costs and expenses reasonably incurred by Her Majesty in right of Canada or a province or any other person."
The second amendment is related to the concept of polluter pays, which is the practice that those who produce pollution should bear the costs of managing it to prevent damage to human health or the environment. The original line in the bill says that the National Energy Board "may" recover funds to compensate those affected by a spill. The amendment changed the "may" to "shall."
Allowing the NEB to "basically, then, go after the company for the money," May said.
"I'm very pleased that Kelly Block, as the parliamentary secretary for the minister of natural resources, she thought my amendments improved clarity and improved the bill overall. The Conservatives all voted for two of them."
May added that the amendments were first suggested by the Assembly of First Nations and Ecojustice Canada.
In response to CBC News queries, neither committee chair Leon Benoit nor Block commented specifically on May's efforts. They offered, instead, the following statement.
"The purpose of studying legislation at committee is to hear from expert witnesses and consider amendments that improve legislation. The amendments that were accepted provided additional clarity to the Pipeline Safety Act."
With only two sitting MPs instead of the requisite 12, the Green Party is not an officially recognized party in the House of Commons. May, then, does not sit on any parliamentary committees and the process for Green MPs to submit amendments, she said, "has been fairly onerous."
"It's just nice to, once again, establish that every member of Parliament can make a difference in Parliament. Every member of Parliament has power in this system and we're supposed to all be, in principle, equal," she said.
"This is a very encouraging moment and I hope it's more than a moment."