The provincial autonomy movement rejoiced amid the defeat of Bill C-69 in the Supreme Court, compelling Environment Canada to now “collaborate with provinces” on infrastructure projects.
“We will follow the guidance of the Court and collaborate with the provinces,” Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault told reporters October 13.
Environmental impact assessments must be done “in the spirit of collaboration with provinces,” he added.
Cabinet in Bill C-69, An Act To Enact The Impact Assessment Act, claimed broad powers to assess any project listed under Regulations Designating Physical Activities.
The list included oil refineries, gas plants, petroleum pipelines, hydroelectric dams, metal mines, new railway yards over 123 acres, commercial airports with 1,000-metre runways, marine ports, wind farms and sand quarries.
But the Supreme Court in a 5 to 2 ruling on October 13 said Cabinet over-extended its authority to regulate the “health, social, gender and economic impacts” of industrial projects, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.
“This scheme plainly overstepped the mark,” wrote Chief Justice Richard Wagner.
“It is clear Parliament can enact legislation to protect the environment,” he added. “However such a scheme must be consistently focused on federal matters.”
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) celebrated the Supreme Court ruling as a “huge win for Canadian taxpayers and resource workers.”
“This means the feds can’t use this law to stop premiers like Scott Moe or Danielle Smith or François Legault from developing resources to create jobs for people in their provinces,” Franco Terrazzano, CTF Federal Director, told Rebel News.
As interveners in the challenge, lawyers for the taxpayer group argued the law blurred federal and provincial accountability for resource development and “created duplication” within federal and provincial bureaucracies.
Five provinces, including Alberta, feverishly opposed the 2019 regulatory process and applauded the ruling on Friday as a “massive win” for “provincial rights.”
Alberta challenged the Act in court earlier this year, with Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador on side with the former.
“The federal government, through passage of Bill C-69, and continuing now with their proposed electricity regulations and oil and gas emissions cap, is blatantly attempting to erode and emasculate the rights and authorities of provinces as an equal order of government under the Canadian Constitution,” read a joint statement by Premier Danielle Smith and Justice Minister Mickey Amery.
“We are very pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision,” they said.
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs testified at hearings of the Senate energy committee, saying, “It’s very hard not to conclude this bill is a no-pipeline bill.”
“On what basis can they decide they don’t like a project?” he added. “I think it needs to be sent back to the drawing board.”
Both governments vehemently denounced the Impact Assessment Act for costing their provinces tens of billions in investment as well as thousands of jobs across several economic sectors.
In 2019, CTF calculated that blocking pipelines could cost taxpayers $12.8 billion in lost federal revenues between 2013 and 2023.
Their fact sheet said the lack of pipelines cost the federal government $6.2 billion between 2013 and 2018 and an additional $6.6 billion since then.
The Alberta government says the ruling represents an “opportunity” for all provinces to “stop that bleeding” and begin the process of “reattracting those investments and jobs into our economies.”
“When governments stop resource development, taxpayers pay,” added Terrazzano. “We need to be able to develop Canadian resources to create jobs and pay for hospitals, schools and lower taxes.”
“Federal losses due to a lack of pipeline capacity between 2013 and 2018 could have paid for eight new hospitals,” said the taxpayers group.
“By failing to build pipelines now, we could miss out on staffing another 25,000 teachers over the next five years.”
In response, Guilbeault told reporters that Cabinet “will […] work quickly to improve the legislation through Parliament,”
“Can you clarify what sort of timeline you might have?” asked a reporter. He replied: “I can’t really answer that question right now.”
According to Blacklock’s Reporter, Cabinet previously dismissed 130 Senate amendments to the bill despite warnings of a looming legal challenge.
“They are unacceptable to us and they are unacceptable to Canadians,” then-Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told reporters at the time. “It’s already a law. Look, the legislation is already in force.”
The federal government felt so sure the legal challenge would fail that they distributed a fact sheet applauding Bill C-69 last Thursday. They called it ‘better than anything’ passed by the previous government.
“Harper’s Conservative government tried to cut corners at every turn,” it wrote. “As a result major projects weren’t built. They were tied up in the courts for years.”