Timing, as they say, is everything. And the timing right now for opponents of the federal government’s much-maligned Impact Assessment Act couldn’t be much worse. Arguments around the constitutionality of the act, which has been widely branded as the “no more pipelines” law by conservative politicians and premiers, are being heard by the Supreme Court of Canada this week. And Russell Brown, the justice most likely to side with the provinces, is sidelined after reports of a recent punch-up at a resort in Arizona.
That’s not all.
Imperial Oil’s tailings pond leak at its Kearl facility, one that underscores the weakness of Alberta’s regulatory environment and the need for federal involvement, is still making news. It also speaks to the need for something like the Impact Assessment Act, one that might just hold proponents to a higher standard than they’d like. The law will ensure national concerns around climate change and environmental protection are included in decisions around major economic projects. And it will mean new projects with national impacts will have to be in the national interest.
That obviously isn’t sitting well with some members of Alberta’s political establishment. Veteran Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid took a swipe at the bill, suggesting that it’s “a slippery thing. It claims to operate in federal lands but then refers to projects ‘in Canada.’ It also assumes power over projects with environmental effects ‘outside Canada.’ It promises co-ordination with provinces, but no province is reassured.”
The federal government’s abiding interest in things like climate change and environmental impacts is unnecessary, Braid writes, because provinces like Alberta already take them seriously. As evidence, he cites the existence of a page on the Government of Alberta website detailing the scientific reality of climate change — one, it should be noted, that was created back in 2016 by its predecessor NDP government and has barely been updated since.
That it isn’t actively denying the scientific reality of climate change is, I suppose, worth noting. But so, too, is the absence of an actual climate plan, one that’s been missing ever since the United Conservative Party scrapped the NDP’s Climate Leadership Plan in 2019. And in the years since, the regulator charged with protecting the public interest has allowed hundreds of millions in rural property taxes to go unpaid, the number of unreclaimed and orphan wells to skyrocket and oilsands leaks to go unreported to nearby Indigenous communities.
Worse, perhaps, is the sort of cronyism that’s rampant at the Alberta Energy Regulator. Former premier Jason Kenney’s campaign manager, an outspoken skeptic of anthropogenic climate change, is the vice-president of its science and innovation branch, while CEO Laurie Pushor is a former Saskatchewan Party political adviser who was involved in a land deal scandal. A regulator marbled with conservative ex-politicos can hardly be counted on to uphold the public’s interest — unless that interest is defined as being in lockstep with the oil and gas industry.
As to the notion the Impact Assessment Act would spell the end of any new oil and gas development, another inconveniently timed truth was revealed last week when the government of B.C. approved the Cedar LNG facility, subject to a number of environmental conditions. In addition to the impact on the environment and climate, it weighed factors like Indigenous rights and gender-based analysis, all things that industry advocates have claimed would make timely decisions — much less approvals — impossible. And yet, far from gumming up the works, the federal government concurred with B.C.’s assessment.
There’s also some deep irony in the fact that the very same advocates and politicians who love telling people about the “ethical” nature of Canada’s oil and gas industry are actively resisting legislation that would help prove their point. But that argument has always been a communications and branding operation — or, worse, an exercise in “virtue signalling” — rather than a genuine effort to uphold the highest possible standards. The almost unilateral opposition to the Impact Assessment Act is just the latest example of how big the gulf is between their talk and their walk.
Danielle Smith's government is in court right now fighting against the federal government's Impact Assessment Act — a case it's probably going to lose. If it does, it should look in its own backyard for the reason why. @maxfawcett writes
We are, whether some people want to acknowledge it or not, more than just a community of communities in Canada. We’re a country with national objectives and national interests, and our regulations should reflect that reality. Let’s hope that when it rules on the Impact Assessment Act, the Supreme Court of Canada feels the same way.