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Ian MadsenCanada is no longer a low-risk, high-return venue for investment.

The federal government has boxed itself into a corner in its attempts to square the process for reviewing and approving large mining, pipeline or other projects. It has run counter to the private sector’s desire for any such process to be clear, simple, relatively quick, rather than an insuperable obstacle to making big, risky investments.

Under the government’s draft Bill C-69, a proposed project would qualify for such a review if it:

  • “causes a change to the environment on federal lands, in a province other than where the project is being carried out, or outside Canada;
  • “causes a change to the environment in Canada that affects the physical and cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples, or their health, social or economic conditions;
  • “has an effect on fish, aquatic species and migratory birds;
  • “causes a change to the environment of structures or sites that are of historical significance.”

These conditions are broad and general, but seem to be in line with previous procedures, except for the one regarding the physical and cultural effects, or health, social or economic conditions of Indigenous peoples.

This is dangerously close to having anything that might disturb the existing conditions being considered deleterious. And these changes may not directly affect them in any negative way.

One example could be the protest in British Columbia of the Coastal GasLink pipeline surveying crews’ activities on lands with tenuous Indigenous claims. While the elected First Nations council leaders have all agreed to right-of-way access, others have persisted in their crusade, abetted by outsiders.

The overly broad language of the bill, even if mitigated by other more limiting language elsewhere in the document, would allow such unsanctioned obstruction.

As for impact assessment, Bill C-69 would require the agency take into account:

  • “the impact the project may have on Indigenous groups;
  • “the project’s contribution to sustainability;
  • “the project’s effect on the federal government’s ability to meet environmental obligations and climate change commitments;
  • “the intersection of sex and gender with other identity factors;
  • “the need for the project and any technically and economically feasible alternatives.”

Almost anything, anywhere, could have one or more effects on Indigenous groups, even if only psychological, let alone a big mine or construction project. The bill should be explicit about what sorts of things affecting First Nations could or should be considered in an impact review.

The contribution to sustainability clause is as wide as interstellar space. It could be used to stop nearly every large project, except hydroelectric dams, solar installations, wind turbine farms or, strangely, some mining projects that produce rare metals, zinc, copper, lithium, cobalt, or anything else used in batteries or electric motors or permanent magnets. No fossil-fuel-related project is, by definition, sustainable in that they all rely on finite resources.

The environmental obligations clause is also extremely broad and would bring anything fossil-fuel-based into jeopardy, since all of them involve, ultimately, burning hydrocarbons and thus emitting carbon dioxide.

The clause on gender would be puzzling if this whole C-69 enterprise were not already an exercise in political correctness.

It’s understandable that the federal government wants to cover all conceivable bases in impact assessment and review process to ensure that a debacle like the Trans Mountain pipeline approval process doesn’t occur again.

However, this draft law is so full of giant holes that it could make things much worse for anyone trying to build the kind of large projects that would make our economy stronger.

This bill needs to be tightened and made far more explicit – or it should just be scrapped.

Ian Madsen is a senior policy analyst with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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