Manitoba

'A very odd process': Environmental groups protest at Senate committee's Bill C-69 meeting in Winnipeg

A group of environmentalists staged their own "alternate hearing for Bill C-69" after the protesters were asked to leave a Senate committee meeting in Winnipeg on Friday.

Bill C-69 would change the way energy projects are approved and assessed for environmental, economic impacts

A group of environmentalists protested their in support of Bill C-69 at a Senate environment committee meeting in Winnipeg on Friday. (CBC)

A group of environmentalists staged their own "alternate hearing for Bill C-69" after the protesters were asked to leave a Senate committee meeting in Winnipeg on Friday.

The Senate's energy, environment and natural resources committee is touring across Canada for hearings about Bill C-69, which would change the way energy projects are approved and assessed for environmental and economic impacts.

The hearing at the Hotel Fort Garry in Winnipeg Friday morning was disrupted by members of the Wilderness Committee and Concerned Citizens of Manitoba.

Protesters held signs saying "people before pipelines" and "get your oily hands off my environment." They were asked to leave after a few minutes.

Saying they were denied a chance to speak at the Senate meeting to show their support for Bill C-69, they held their own meeting in the same hotel just a few floors down after they left.

"We decided to have an alternate hearing for Bill C-69," said the Wilderness Committee's Eric Reder.

The Senate meetings are unnecessary, he argued, because the bill has been passed by Parliament. It still requires Senate approval.

"The government already passed Bill C-69 in the House last year and then the Senate decided that, 'Whoa, we're hearing a lot of noise from the oil and gas industry, so we're going to tour the country again,'" Reder said.

"This has already been done. This is already the most-consulted piece of legislation in Canada."

Concerns from oil, gas industry

The Senate environment committee is reviewing the legislation after hearing concerns from the oil and gas industry.

Industry representatives and the Alberta government say the legislation would result in unending consultation and regulatory challenges that would  hurt development.

The Senate committee was met in Calgary on Tuesday by crowds chanting "kill the bill."

The protesters at the Winnipeg meeting said the bill is needed, and they don't want the Senate to delay it.

"We need to put the legislation back in place at least as good as it was in 2012, when the previous government gutted it," said Reder, who added he's worried the legislation will be amended or delayed.

He also questioned how the committee chose the people it heard from.

"It's a very odd process," he said. "People had asked to speak, and mostly what [the committee] have chosen are industry representatives," he said.

Committee hearing all sides: Senator

Quebec Sen. Rosa Galvez, who is chairing the committee meetings, said they are hearing from all sides.

"We only had two witnesses that came from Calgary today and one was definitely from the oil company, but the other expert was from a think-tank, and this lady started by saying she's an environmentalist," said Galvez. 

"It is a complex bill and it has many parts, and there is no consensus on the unanimous approval of this bill," she said.

Many of the groups who spoke at the Senate meeting in Winnipeg were from Manitoba, the committee chair added.

"It is true there is a lot of concern for the oil and gas industry and in the pipeline industry, and we have heard about that, but now we are hearing about Manitoba Hydro projects, we are listening to municipalities and more First Nations."

Galvez said not every group who wants to speak at the hearing makes the list, but she stressed that disrupting a meeting through protesting is not the best way to be heard.

"We are here to listen to everybody," she said.

"[The protesters] knew that we didn't want to be disrupted, that it is not polite, and the goal is to listen to minorities."

Galvez said the Senate committee has wrapped up its tour of Western Canada and will take a short break before heading to Ontario.

With files from The Canadian Press

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