Opposition MPs demand separate environment bill

New Democratic and Liberal MPs are angry that the government is trying to make major environmental policy changes through the budget bill and want them separated into their own bill.

Policy changes contained in omnibus budget bill draw fire

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May is among the opposition MPs who are demanding the government remove environment-related policy changes from the budget implementation bill. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Opposition MPs are angry with the government for proposing major environmental policy changes in the budget implementation bill introduced yesterday and are demanding the proposals be hived off into a separate bill.

Bill C-38, which is more than 400 pages, proposes changes to numerous pieces of legislation, suggests repealing some laws and has other measures to implement what was promised in last month's budget.

A large portion of the bill is dedicated to overhauling how environmental assessments are conducted, changes that were announced by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver last week; it also aims to repeal the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act.

The Conservatives will be able to use their majority in the House of Commons and the Senate to pass the bill.

NDP finance critic Peggy Nash accused the government in question period of launching a "full frontal assault on environmental protection" in the budget bill. She said the proposed changes will shut citizens out of pipeline project reviews, give the minister sweeping powers to approve projects and exempt many projects from review.

"Why is the minister hiding such significant changes in a 400-page budget bill? Is it because he knows that Canadians oppose this reckless attack on our environmental protection?" Nash said.

Conservative MP David Anderson, parliamentary secretary to Oliver, said the NDP should get on board with the government's plan.

"Responsible resource development is key for Canadians if we want to have a strong economy and we want to have strong environmental protection in the future," he said. "I get tired of the no-development party over there because it criticizes everybody and praises no one."

The Conservatives should "do the right thing" and put the proposals in a separate bill that would then be studied by the appropriate committees, Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan said.

The budget implementation bill will go before the finance committee, but there are standing committees on the environment and on natural resources where she said she would like to see the proposed changes scrutinized.

According to Duncan, the proposed legislation will gut environmental protection, but her claim was rejected by Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, the parliamentary secretary to Environment Minister Peter Kent.

"Our government is the first government in a long time that has actually cared about the environment," Rempel replied.

In a news release Duncan said the finance committee doesn't have the expertise to study complex environmental regulations.

"This government is trying to avoid public scrutiny by cramming major environmental changes into a sweeping kitchen sink budget bill and circumventing necessary parliamentary oversight," Duncan charged.

Nash backed Duncan's demand that the environment-related proposals in the budget bill be separated into a different piece of legislation when she spoke to reporters.

'Devastating changes'

"It should be broken out and go to the environment committee. It should be a separate bill. These changes are of concern to Canadians and they ought to be debated," she said. "It's a basic question of democracy that parliamentarians ought to be respected in their role of being able to give proper oversight and debate to such substantive changes."

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May called the budget implementation bill "420 pages of omnibus abuse of parliamentary process" and also asked for the environment measures to be taken out. 

Speaking to reporters after question period she said the budget bill contains "the most devastating changes to environmental law in Canada in the last 40 years in one law."

May said the government is going to try to pass the budget bill before the end of June and that the finance committee won't have enough time to properly study all of the changes contained in it.

"This is about a government that's so afraid of allowing Canadians to see a bill, to see these bills in the light of day, that they're pre-empting legitimate parliamentary process by stuffing devastating changes into one bill that will never be properly examined," she said.

The government says the environment measures will get scrutiny through a special subcommittee of the finance committee that will be set up to study what it calls responsible resource development.

Rempel told CBC New Network's Power & Politics that while the members for the subcommittee haven't been chosen yet she hoped they will include environment critics from the parties.