The Current

Pipelines are irrelevant in the debate over Bill C-69, reporter argues

There are two controversial bills currently before the Senate, both with a focus on pipeline and the energy industry. Our national affairs panel unpacks the political pull between environmental concerns and economical incentives — and how it might impact the upcoming federal election.

'It will never actually review a pipeline because there won't actually be any more pipeline proposals'

A group of men wearing safety vests handle a piece of pipe for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
The Canadian Press's energy and environment reporter Mia Rabson argues that pipeline proposals are unlikely to come up against Bill C-69 because pipelines aren't the future. (CBC)

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The federal government's controversial environmental assessment legislation may never be used to review a pipeline proposal because another pipeline may never be built in Canada, according to journalist Mia Rabson.

"There are many who actually think that Trans Mountain — if it ever goes forward — would actually be the last pipeline likely built in Canada," said Rabson, who reports on energy and the environment for Canadian Press.

Not only are pipelines difficult to build, she explained, but energy and oil usage are predicted to decline as alternative energy becomes more readily available, thus decreasing the economic incentive to expand pipelines.

The political debate around Bill C-69, which aims to overhaul the environmental assessment process for major resource projects, has been centred on "what it would do to pipelines," Rabson told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"Some think that [Bill C-69] will never actually review a pipeline because there won't actually be any more pipeline proposals," she said.

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 early April. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

"It's more the electricity grid and highways and tidal power and nuclear power and solar power and things like that that it'll end up being used for."

Earlier this month, the Senate energy committee approved nearly 200 amendments to Bill C-69 in order to make environmental assessments more stringent so they are less likely to fail court challenges. The amendments also reduce cabinet discretion to intervene in the assessment process, therefore making it harder for anyone to initiate court challenges to decisions on projects along with changing how climate change impacts are considered.

Jason Kenney, the newly elected premier of Alberta, has dubbed the bill the so-called "No More Pipelines Act" and threatened a constitutional challenge if it wasn't strongly edited. He has since announced that he was pleased with the rewrite.

Environmental advocates, Liberals and Indigenous leaders have spoken out against the amendments, accusing Canadian senators are bowing to pressure from the energy sector as well as dooming future energy projects to lengthy court battles.

To discuss the ongoing debate over environmental concerns and economical incentives, Tremonti spoke to: 

  • Mia Rabson, energy and environment reporter for Canadian Press.
  • Graham Thompson, former political columnist for the Edmonton Journal, who now contributes to CBC, iPolitics and Alberta Views.
  • J.P. Tasker, senior writer with CBC's parliamentary bureau.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Émilie Quesnel with files from CBC News. Produced by Idella Sturino and Kristin Nelson.