Provincial energy ministers say 'cherry-picking' 99 changes to Bill C-69 isn't enough

Provincial energy ministers from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario are in Calgary to share their reactions to what amendments the federal government has accepted to Bill C-69.

Energy ministers from Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan criticized federal decision

Energy ministers from Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan. (CBC/Canadian Press/CBC)

The federal government has accepted a record number of Senate changes to its environmental assessment overhaul bill, but provincial energy ministers from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario say the bill shouldn't be passed unless every single amendment goes through.

"You start cherry-picking … and it fails," said Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage, who said the rejected amendments addressed both constitutional issues and technical aspects of the bill. 

"The only way that bill should be passed is with each and every one of those amendments."

Savage, Saskatchewan Energy Minister Bronwyn Eyre and Ontario Energy Minister Greg Rickford held a joint press conference in Calgary Wednesday afternoon to react to the passing of Bill C-69 by the Liberal-controlled House of Commons.

  • Watch the full news conference below:

Last week, the Senate passed an unprecedented 188 amendments to the bill after months of study and a cross-country committee tour to regions most affected by changes to the natural resources and energy regulatory regime.

The federal Liberal government accepted 99 of those amendments — 62 verbatim and 37 others with substantial tweaks — but rejected many that one industry association called "critical" for getting pipelines built. 

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

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association said the chosen amendments don't address timelines, ministerial discretion and public participation.

"If Bill C-69 passes in its current form, it is difficult to imagine that any major new pipeline projects will be proposed or built in the future," said CEPA president and CEO Chris Bloomer in an emailed statement. "This bill falls short and is simply the wrong move for Canada."

Alberta threatens constitutional challenge

Savage said if the bill passes in its current form, Alberta's next step will be a constitutional challenge. 

Both Eyre and Rickford said their governments stand with Alberta but didn't go so far as to confirm they'd join that fight. 

"Ontario believes that a good part of its prosperity, particularly as it comes to dynamic energy supply, includes Alberta. So the stakes are very high," said Rickford.

"We share Alberta's concerns and we're certainly in a position to support any steps they might take," Rickford said, but added that Alberta's legal stance will be "nuanced and different" from Ontario's.

Eyre said it's important to recognize the bill impacts each province in different ways, pointing to industries other than oil and gas that will be impacted, like potash mining and nuclear energy.

"We have a slightly different landscape in each of our provinces … these sectors have been provincially regulated successfully all these years and suddenly this injects so much uncertainty," she said. 

The premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories have written a letter to the prime minister calling on the federal government to accept the amendments. Savage said they represent roughly 60 per cent of Canada's population and GDP.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney issued a statement earlier in the day saying the decision to reject many of the Conservative amendments goes against common sense.

"I'm very disappointed to learn that during the night the federal government rejected the vast majority of amendments made by the Senate of Canada to Bill C-69, after thousands of hours of close study and witness testimony," Kenney said in an emailed statement early Wednesday afternoon.

The federal government saw the rejected amendments as weakening Indigenous voices by making consultation optional — with one amendment saying Indigenous impacts "may" be considered, rather than "must be considered" — and giving too much power over the environmental review process to industry.

"Let's be clear on what Conservative politicians want. They want to replace environmental review with (a) pipeline approval process. They want us to copy and paste recommendations written by oil lobbyists," Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said earlier on Wednesday.

But Eyre challenged that position.

"We heard this spin about Indigenous consultation being optional, that's patently false … the other part of the narrative we've heard is that the system is broken and that's why pipelines aren't being approved," she said.

"It's the political will that's broken."

The legislation now goes back to the Senate, who will have to accept the changes before the bill can become law.

With files from CBC Politics