Calgary

Jason Kenney will challenge passage of Bills C-69 and C-48 in the courts

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the province will challenge the passage of two controversial federal bills in the courts.

Alberta Senator, however, defends reworked C-69 as 'better bill than the status quo'

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the "passage of these two bills not only undermines Canada's economy but also the Canadian federation." (Amber Bracken/Canadian Press)

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the province will challenge the passage of two controversial federal bills in the courts.

Bill C-69, which changes Canada's environmental assessment process, and Bill C-48, which bans tanker traffic from a stretch of B.C.'s north coast, were both passed Thursday night in the Senate.

"The passage of these two bills not only undermines Canada's economy but also the Canadian federation," said Kenney in news release.

"Their passage brings us closer to moving forward with a referendum on a constitutional amendment to eliminate equalization from the Canadian constitution. If Albertans cannot develop our resources within the federation, then we should not be expected to pay the bills in the federation."

During the provincial election, Kenney had used the federal equalization formula, established when he was a federal cabinet minister, as a political cudgel against the Trudeau Liberals. 

The province can't unilaterally pull out of the equalization program. 

'Prejudicial attack'

Kenney said C-48 is a "prejudicial attack" on Alberta that only targets one product: bitumen. Oil moving through the recently approved Trans Mountain pipeline will not move through that section of the coastline. 

On C-69, Kenney said it's a "flagrant violation of the exclusive constitutional jurisdiction of provinces to control the development of their natural resources."

Pro-pipline supporters rally outside a public hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources regarding Bill C-69 in Calgary on April 9. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The premier's discontent with the passage of the two bills was echoed by an industry group.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) said in a release Friday that Bill C-69 becoming law will make the prospects of any new major pipeline developments bleak.

"Bill C-69 does not create the clarity and certainty necessary for proponents of major new pipeline projects to risk bringing them forward," the industry group said.

Amendments

The legislation imposes new requirements for consulting affected Indigenous communities, widens public participation in the review process and requires climate change to be considered when major national resource-exploitation and transportation projects are being evaluated.

CEPA said it's unfortunate that the Senate turned down an opportunity to make the assessment process bill more workable for the oil and gas industry by voting down the majority of the amendments that had been proposed.

The Senate made more than 200 amendments to that bill earlier this month, but the government accepted just 99 of them, mostly to do with reducing ministerial discretion to intervene in the review process.

'A better bill'

However, independent Alberta Senator Paula Simons says the amendments agreed to by Conservatives, Independents, Liberal and unaffiliated senators have led to a hugely improved piece of legislation.

Simons said it's not widely understood just how vastly different the final version of Bill C-69 is from its original version.

"To get the government to accept 99 Senate amendments to a bill, it's nearly unprecedented," she said.

Sen. Paula Simons of Alberta says amendments to Bill C-69 have improved the legislation. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

"It's a better bill than what came before us. And more importantly, it's a better bill than the status quo."

Simons said that while the bill as originally written required the assessment process to examine only possible negative impacts of projects, the reworked version will see the regulator take into account a project's potential positive impacts on the economy or society.

She said the bill now also includes wording that the approval process must safeguard Canadian competitiveness.

"And this is a change that cascades all through the bill," she said.

Ministerial powers removed

The amendments also removed most of the vast powers the original bill had handed to the environment minister, which many critics said could have politicized and slowed down the process.

"We've stripped all those powers from the minister, and given them more properly to the independent, arms-length expert regulator."

She says the bill strikes a good compromise on the thorny issue of which groups get standing as interveners. The regulator will have the discretion to decide on a case-by-case basis.

"So the regulator has the authority to decide who testifies and how," she said. Simons says this will reduce opportunities for delay tactics and other mischief-making with witness lists.

Simons says the amended bill also addresses the concerns many critics raised with the requirement of each approval process to examine projects against a long list of criteria.

"For some projects, that list doesn't make any sense for them, so the regulator would be able to say, 'OK, we don't have to do everything on this laundry list because your kind of project doesn't require that you tick every box.'"

Simons also said the final bill includes a realigned emphasis on regional assessments.

"So, once the region has been assessed, then each individual project that's a sub-set of that region doesn't have to go through that whole process from the beginning again."

'It's still an open-ended process'

But CEPA president Chris Bloomer is not convinced the changes made to the bill will be sufficient to shore up the confidence among international investors that Canada is a good place to put their money.

"We don't feel that the amendments that the government did take up from the package that was sent over to the Senate accomplish the clarity and certainty on those points that we need," he said.

"And we don't have hard timelines. It's still an open-ended process," he added.

Bloomer said industry leaders have also been frustrated by the tone of the messaging from Ottawa leading up to the passage of the new environmental assessment bill and the tanker-ban bill.

He said the Liberal government hasn't stood up for Canada's energy sector as an important engine of wealth creation or given it credit for its progress in lowering GHG emissions.

"We have a role to play in the energy transition. We're part of that and we're part of the solution going forward," he said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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