A proposed federal bill that aims to change the way Ottawa assesses major energy projects was given a rough ride in Calgary on Tuesday.
Representatives of Canada's biggest oil and gas companies took turns demanding major changes to Bill C-69 before a Senate committee on a cross-Canada series of hearings that started in Vancouver on Monday.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people rallied outside the downtown hotel where the hearing was taking place, chanting "Kill that Bill" and waving signs — a scene that is becoming typical whenever federal politicians come to Calgary.
"Bill C-69 as currently written is unworkable," Steve Laut, executive vice-chairman of oilsands producer Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., told the senators.
"However, with common sense amendments, we can make this bill workable and create a large number of well-paying jobs for Canadians, unleash Canadian ingenuity, support investment in a low-carbon energy mix and make Canada a world leader on climate change."
The testimony senators have been gathering will likely result in amendment recommendations by May 9 when the energy committee is scheduled to give its report to the Senate, said chairwoman Rosa Galvez in an interview.
She added she thinks it's possible for the bill to be sent back to the House of Commons by June, giving enough time to be passed into law before it shuts down ahead of the expected October federal election.
Bill C-69 would repeal the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and retire the National Energy Board, leaving the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada and the Canadian Energy Regulator as authorities responsible for assessments of the environmental, health, social and economic impacts of designated projects.
Spokespeople for large oilsands producers Canadian Natural, Suncor Energy Inc., Imperial Oil Ltd. and Cenovus Energy told the hearing they support the intent of the bill to improve the regulatory process but only if sweeping amendments proposed by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers are adopted.
They also expressed concern about what projects will be on the designated list, noting that crucial information has not yet been released by the federal government.
CAPP's changes would prevent public policy debates from being part of project assessments, would restrict application interveners to those directly affected by the project or with expertise, would require firm timelines and would limit government ministers' discretionary powers.
"I think it's crucial (the amendments) get adopted. Canada can't sustain the damage that the bill in its current form would cast on our economy," said CAPP CEO Tim McMillan, speaking on the rally sidelines outside the hotel.
"I think the fact so many people would show up on a Tuesday morning speaks to the importance."
Also testifying Tuesday morning was Chief Roy Fox of the Blood Tribe of southern Alberta, who said oil and gas development has taken place on his reserve since the 1950s with no environmental problems.
"I understand that the regulatory approval process as it stands in Canada is flawed, but Bill C-69, as it is written, just makes that process worse," he testified.
"It is poorly worded and vague and, as a result, the oil and gas industry is already moving their investment out of the country. But we, the Indigenous peoples, cannot move our territories."
Price discounts for western Canadian oil and gas blamed on a lack of export pipeline capacity caused his reserve's energy royalties to drop from $610,000 last August to $120,000 in January, he said.
He added an investment chill means producers are less willing to spend money to expand production on the reserve.
Suncor is concerned about Bill C-69's potential to greatly increase the time it takes to approve offshore exploration drilling, which would hurt Canada's competitiveness with other countries, testified Ginny Flood, vice-president of government relations for the company.