Consultation can't go on 'endlessly,' says Manitoba premier, blasting federal environmental assessment bill

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is accusing the federal government of sowing dysfunction by jeopardizing the economic development of the provinces.

Brian Pallister says oil pipelines, flood outlets could be at risk under environmental assessment changes

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says federal obstacles to economic development are threatening the resource sector. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press )

Premier Brian Pallister says the federal government's move to overhaul the environmental assessment process for major resource projects could slow down important projects in Manitoba, like flood-protection outlets in the northern Interlake.  

Bill C-69, contentious federal legislation that critics say would drive away investment in the energy sector, will needlessly bog down applications for oil exporting, flood protection and resource extraction, Pallister says.

The bill creates the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada to carry out review of all major projects in this country, to assess not just the environmental considerations, but also health, social and economic impacts, as well as effects on Indigenous peoples, over the long term.

The proposed guidelines would add years to the process of building flood-protection outlets from Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin, Pallister said, calling the work urgently needed.

He is asking the feds to revamp Bill C-69 by clarifying the government's role in Indigenous consultation and ensuring the federal environment minister doesn't override provincial jurisdiction.

"We want a process that's respectful of all, but it cannot go on endlessly," Pallister said.

The Manitoba government has called on Ottawa to avoid delays in the construction of permanent Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin outlet channels with a 'complex federal environmental regulatory process.' (Province of Manitoba)

First Nation chiefs, however, have accused the province of inadequate consultation on the planned flood mitigation effort.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the premier said the changes include "broad authority" for the federal government and could result in multiple reviews for a single project. 

Bill C-69 "fails to establish clarity on the incorporation of traditional knowledge in the assessment process, and how it would be balanced with scientific evidence," the statement said.

'Inviting disharmony'

Pallister also accused the federal government of sowing dysfunction.

"I don't think it's too strong to say that we're moving in a direction where we're inviting disharmony among our Canadian provinces," Pallister told reporters Thursday at the Manitoba Legislature.

The premier repeated his plea for Ottawa to eliminate federal barriers to interprovincial trade, a charge he led at meetings last week with his provincial counterparts and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Pallister said the provinces have done their part. Every jurisdiction plans to adopt uniform standards for occupational health and safety equipment, cut back on limits to the flow of alcohol across borders and streamline ways to register a business, a news release from Canada's premiers said.

While that helps, he said Ottawa is compounding problems through vague and onerous regulations.

"Good, we'll be able to take beer we purchase across provincial borders, but not oil," Pallister said.

If those obstacles were in place historically, Canada wouldn't have a national highway or railway, he said.

"What the federal government is doing right now is it's trying to please everyone and that is going to create a situation where no one benefits and everyone is endangered."

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter at CBC Manitoba. He previously wrote about rural Manitoba for the Brandon Sun and the Carillon in Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from John Paul Tasker

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