Bonnyville and other municipalities in the area are still trying to maneuver in front of the Senate committee to recommend wholesale changes to Bill C-69, but the clock continues to tick.
There is no update whether local mayors will be able to go to Ottawa will also be able to voice their concerns from the municipal level, and that could be in some doubt as the Senate committee chose on Thursday to conduct a nine-city tour and recommend changes no later than May 9.
“Nobody from the municipal level has had a chance to speak in front of the Senate committee that I’ve seen and we haven’t been given any direction in terms of when we might get the chance, and we might not,” said Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland.
Last week, the Senate committee heard from provincial politicians like Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball talk about a suite of proposed changes.
The bill must pass third reading by the Senate and be passed by the government with as many or as few changes as they wish. If the bill does not get the green light by the spring, it will go to the shredder since it is still on the paper order and not yet law.
Bonnyville Mayor Gene Sobolewski, M.D. Reeve Greg Sawchuk, and Copeland met with Senators in Edmonton on Feb. 1 to strategize the best way to voice their concerns.
The town of Bonnyville hired a lobbying firm in Ottawa in February to help mobilize, but the Senate committee has not “gone down to our pay-level,” said Copeland.
Many of Bill C-69’s critics cite scarce foreign investment in Canadian industry as a signal that the bill is flawed.
Plus, Copeland and Sobolewski warn that the bill’s vague wording leaves more power in the federal government’s hands in intervening in municipal projects – outside of energy.
“The local impact of these projects whether it’s pipeline or big infrastructure plays, big oil sands operations, the local impact is getting watered down by Bill C-69 because so many other communities can take part in all these environmental groups,” said Copeland.
“You could have groups in Quebec having issues with an oil sands operation in Alberta which is absolutely ridiculous. But that’s Canada. Canada is a strange place to live right now. No one wants to do business. No one wants to make money. No wants to employ people. We’re just becoming a bureaucratic nightmare. Foreign investment doesn’t need to come to Canada and that’s the issue.
“We’re chasing investment out of this country and yet we can allow cruise ships to roll in Victoria and Vancouver and the freighter traffic coming in from China with all the Amazon and WalMart products… we have no problem with the freight traffic coming in and the boat traffic coming in and nobody talks about the whales for the cruise ship industry and all the carbon they’re burning – but boy we sure have a hard time with one or two tankers more a day moving all our oil to Asia.
“We’ve become very silly in this country and unfortunately the oil patch wasn’t being defended provincially or federally very well over the past 5-10 years and we allowed the environmentalists to completely hijack the agenda here. It’s sad. There are people in Cold Lake and Bonnyville who are losing their homes because they have no job.”
Bill C-69 would be the first legislation of this kind since the Harper government’s Canadian Environmental Assessment Act passed alongside the budget in 2012.
“There are some significant impacts of this bill, whether it’s knowing or unknowing, that could really impact municipalities across Canada,” said Mayor Gene Sobolewski.
Sobolewski warns that the impact assessment takes a lot of time and money to satisfy the government’s requirements, and its vague language also puts potential federal money for municipal projects at risk.
“It’s these sorts of things that we really need to bring to their attention. I don’t know the amount of study and analysis that was done in preparation of this bill, however, there needs to be a full-stop and logically thinking this thing through,” he said.