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Trudeau calls out Tory premiers for ‘playing games’ with national unity over C-69

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it is “absolutely irresponsible” for conservative premiers to threaten to tear Canada apart if the government doesn’t accept all the Senate’s amendments to new environmental-assessment legislation.

The Liberals are expected to say as early as Wednesday what they want to do with the 187 amendments made to Bill C-69 in the Senate last week. The bill would revamp the way the federal government evaluates major infrastructure projects, from pipelines to interprovincial highways.

The conservative premiers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick, and the non-partisan premier of the Northwest Territories, wrote an “urgent” letter to Trudeau Monday telling him that he must accept every last one of the amendments or he will be threatening national unity.

They say Bill C-69 will make it virtually impossible to ever build another major pipeline in Canada and will drive away jobs and investment in the energy sector.

The premiers also want him to scrap Bill C-48, which would put a permanent ban on oil tankers’ loading at ports in British Columbia north of Vancouver Island.

Trudeau lashed out at the premiers when the letter was raised by deputy Conservative leader Lisa Raitt during question period.

“Will the prime minister do the right thing, consider the amendments from the Senate and agree to every single one of them?” she asked.

Trudeau said the government is happy to accept amendments that make the bill better and are in the best interests of the country.

“What we will not do is accept the premiers’ saying ‘There is a threat to national unity if we don’t get our way,’ ” Trudeau said. “That is not the way to hold this country together.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was not impressed, saying the premiers signed the letter “in the best tradition of co-operative federalism.”

“We only asked to be heard, and this dismissive response from the federal government is the real threat to the national economy and to national unity,” he said in a tweet.

Raitt said the premiers were warning about national unity but that they did so as premiers representing a majority of Canadians.

Trudeau said for the first time that at least one of the Senate’s amendments, which he says makes Indigenous consultation “optional,” is a no-go.

“I don’t think Canadians want to go back to Stephen Harper’s years of ignoring Indigenous Peoples in how we build resource projects. That’s a good way to get nothing done, the way Stephen Harper did over 10 years.”

The federal cabinet considered the issue at its weekly meeting Tuesday and a motion listing which amendments the government will accept and which ones it won’t could be tabled for debate in the House of Commons as early as Wednesday.

Bill C-69 fulfils a Liberal election promise to redo the way major national projects are assessed; Trudeau has said previous changes made by the Conservative government in 2012 led only to court challenges. Among the new changes are:

— creating a new Impact Assessment Agency to conduct the reviews,

— limiting the influence of regulators like the National Energy Board in project approvals, and

— requiring the reasons for an approval or denial to be made public, including any science used to reach the conclusion.

Trudeau is under intense pressure from environment groups to reject almost all the Senate amendments, which the groups say are directly taken from the demands of the oil and gas sector and cut into the bill’s attempts to balance protecting the environment and economic growth.

Environmental Defence, Greenpeace Canada and the West Coast Environmental Law Association say the amendments weaken the requirement to consider a project’s impact on climate change, reduce the ability of the public to participate in assessment hearings, and limit the right to ask a court to review a project approval.

That last change is also of concern to law professors, at least 50 of whom penned a letter to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna Tuesday saying it would undermine access to justice, and therefore public trust.

“Canadians must be assured that, when there has been a legal error in the exercise of public duties, they can bring their case to a court without undue expense, impediments and burden,” the law professors said.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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Lighthizer agrees to do whatever it takes to get new NAFTA passed

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OTTAWA — U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer says he will work with Democrats to do whatever it takes to ratify the new North American free trade deal.

Lighthizer made the pledge in testimony today before the U.S. Senate finance committee as part of the Trump administration’s push to get the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement ratified by a divided Congress.

Lighthizer’s appearance on Capitol Hill comes two days before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets President Donald Trump at the White House to give impetus towards ratifying the deal.

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the committee, says the new deal has “weak enforcement” provisions on raising labour standards in Mexico that he and his party want to fix.

Lighthizer says USMCA has stronger enforcement provisions than the old North American Free Trade Agreement, including improved labour rights in Mexico, but he’s open to making it stronger.

Lighthizer says he has had good discussions with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and suggests that getting a ratification bill introduced in the lower house of Congress — a necessary first step towards U.S. ratification of the pact — might be weeks away.

The Canadian Press

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Liberals’ balancing act between energy and the environment climaxes this week

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OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government is teetering on a tightrope this week as it attempts to prove it can balance economic development with environmental protection during the final sitting of Parliament before the fall election.

Bill C-69, legislation overhauling national assessments for major resource and transportation projects, began its final ride Monday in the Senate. The upper chamber has to decide if it can accept the bill despite the government rejecting more than half the proposed amendments made by senators last week.

The Senate will also be asked this week to reconsider the government’s oil tanker moratorium off the coast of northern British Columbia, after the government accepted a Senate amendment requiring a mandatory five-year-review, but rejected another amendment that would have required an assessment after just 180 days.

On Tuesday, cabinet will meet to decide whether to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion for the second time, after the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the 2016 approval citing improper consultations with Indigenous communities and a lack of consideration for the impacts of additional oil tankers on marine life.

And all of this comes as the government Monday imposed a time limit on debate to push through its motion declaring climate change a national emergency requiring more cuts to carbon emissions than Canada has already committed to making.

That motion passed in the Commons late Monday with the support of Liberal, NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Green party MPs — part of a calculated pre-election effort to build political momentum behind the government’s environmental agenda.

The government came under attack from both left and right Monday, with Conservatives demanding the government reject C-69 and explain when construction will begin on Trans Mountain, at the same time as New Democrats were demanding the government reject the pipeline.

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi appeared happy to be seen as coming up the middle by both trying to move Trans Mountain forward following the orders of the Federal Court of Appeal, while putting in place better protections for the environment and Indigenous rights under C-69.

“On the one hand we have Conservatives who do not get the environment,” he said. “On the other hand we have the New Democrats who do not get the economy. We are moving forward, building a strong economy, creating jobs for the middle class, and at the same time taking action on climate, ensuring that we are putting a price on pollution, ensuring that we are taking action by phasing out coal, and making sure that we meaningfully engage with Indigenous communities.”

Conservatives argue Bill C-69 will make Trans Mountain the last pipeline anyone proposes in Canada as it will scare away investors afraid to bother trying to build projects in the face of assessments they say are unfairly tipped against economic benefits and job creation.

The Liberals however argue C-69 is needed because the existing process created by the Conservatives in 2012, gutted environmental protections and is the reason the courts tore up the expansions approval in the first place.

A coalition of oil and gas industry groups, chambers of commerce and manufacturers associations are urging the Senate to kill the bill. Initially the Save Canadian Jobs coalition slogan was “Fix Bill C-69” but after the government rejected most of the fixes the Senate offered up, the coalition now says the Senate needs to “Stop Bill C-69.”

The Senate made more than 200 changes to the bill, and the government accepted 62 of them entirely, and 37 others in part. The rest were rejected, with Environment Minister Catherine McKenna saying many of them overstepped judicial discretion, limited public participation in the process and made it optional to take into account the impact on Indigenous rights or climate change.

Dennis Darby, the president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, agreed Monday that the existing system “is broken.”

However Darby, and the other members of the coalition, said the new legislation will scare off investors from proposing any new projects in Canada and is even worse than what is there now. In particular, the coalition is worried the Impact Assessment Act will make for extremely lengthy reviews and assessments that don’t count job creation heavily enough.

“It’s too easy for the benefits (of projects) to be lost in the sea of negativity,” said Darby. “Local voices can be drowned out by professional activists from abroad.”

But Alberta Sen. Grant Mitchell, who is sponsoring C-69 in the upper chamber, is urging senators to see the bill as a major improvement to the existing system. Mitchell, the government’s liaison in the Senate, said 99 amendments is the highest number of changes the government has accepted from the upper house to a single piece of legislation since those records began being kept in the 1940s.

“It’s not going to be lost on senators that this is significant and that this bill has been enhanced because of the work of the Senate,” said Mitchell.  “It’s historic.”

He said the rhetoric that the legislation is going to mean no new major oil projects will ever be approved in Canada is hogwash because under the legislation every single timeline is shorter than what exists now. He said economic impacts are mentioned 179 times in C-69, where they aren’t mentioned at all in the existing bill.

“This is one heck of a bill and I’m voting for it,” he said, in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“I think this is the way we will get projects built.”

The Senate debate on C-69 began Monday and the vote is expected later this week.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


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