Environment & Economy By Stephen Hazell 122 Views

Will Senate ‘go green’ and support stronger environmental laws?

"The Senate has a constitutional duty to study legislation and refer any proposed amendments to the House of Commons for reconsideration. But the Senate has no right to block environmental legislation duly passed by the democratically elected House of Commons, especially given that the Liberal Party’s electoral mandate in October 2015 made enactment of these stronger environmental laws a priority commitment."

In 2018, the House of Commons passed four environmental protection bills that would be the most in a generation. If also passed by the Senate, these new laws would:

  • Improve how Canada assesses the environmental and sustainability impacts of major development projects (Bill C-69).
  • Reform the disgraced National Energy Board (Bill C-69).
  • Better protect navigable waters (Bill C-69) and fish habitat (Bill C-68).
  • Accelerate creation of marine protected areas and strengthen their ecological integrity (Bill C-55).
  • Ban crude-oil tankers from B.C.’s north coast (Bill C-48).

The question is: Will the Senate also go green and vote for stronger environmental laws before Parliament prorogues at the end of June?

Conservative senators are using a variety of procedural tactics (such as the circus of extraordinary cross-country hearings in western Canada this week and eastern Canada later in the month) to kill Bill C-69.

Bill C-48 is also at risk of death by delay.

Senators are actively considering amendments that remove important new protections for fish and fish habitat from Bill C-68, and create obstacles to more marine protection in Bill C-55.

The Senate has a constitutional duty to study legislation and refer any proposed amendments to the House of Commons for reconsideration.

But the Senate has no right to block environmental legislation duly passed by the democratically elected House of Commons, especially given that the Liberal Party’s electoral mandate in October 2015 made enactment of these stronger environmental laws a priority commitment.

Conservative and several independent senators have aligned themselves with the oil and gas industry in seeking to ensure that federal assessments of development projects do not consider greenhouse gas emissions and restrict public participation in hearings.

Bill C-69 is broadly supported by most environmental groups, including Nature Canada, the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Mining Association of Canada.

The Senate is skating on thin ice with Bill C-69 and these other bills; its very credibility as an institution with an ongoing role in our democracy depends on how it handles them.

Why? A recent AbacusData survey found that almost eight million Canadians are “extremely” worried about climate change, and that nine million say it will be the top issue, or one of the top two issues, that they vote on.

On March 15, children in 100 countries (tens of thousands in Montreal alone) went on strike from school because their politicians are doing so little to address climate change.

Meanwhile, WWF reports that global wildlife populations have declined by 60 per cent in 40 years.

Yet the Senate may well vote to weaken — or kill by delay — bills passed by the elected House of Commons that would help reduce GHG emissions and reverse the loss of wildlife in Canada.

In my view, this would be a major political blunder, but even worse, a moral failure that Canadians will remember.

If these bills are killed or weakened, I predict that Canadian children and adult Canadians who care about children will know exactly where to go to protest. The former train station across from the Chateau Laurier is conveniently located.

Canada’s children and Canada’s nature need the Senate to go green this spring.

Stephen Hazell is director of conservation and general counsel with Nature Canada, the country’s oldest national nature conservation charity.