The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act – used at your convenience

The Conservative Government’s recently passed omnibus Bill C-45, which has spurred national demonstrations such as the Idle No More movement, has some notable lesser-popularized inclusions. Along with the infamously regressive policy changes to many of Canada’s environmental laws (1), a new act was introduced, ambiguously named: The Bridge to Strengthen Trade Act.

This Act is referring to a proposed additional international bridge to connect Windsor, Ontario to Detroit, Michigan. It is estimated to cost $1 billion to construct and would be the greatest infrastructural project in our Government’s history (2). However, this Act is problematic in that it has less to do with strengthening trade as it does with impeding any environmental laws that may be associated with its construction.

In subsection 4 of the Bridge to Strengthen Trade Act: the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 does not apply to the bridge, parkway or any related work.

That is except until the potential “expansion, decommissioning or abandonment of the bridge, parkway or any related work” occurs, then the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 is reintroduced. It also excludes other environmental laws such as the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Species at Risk Act (3).

The proposed new additional bridge across the
Detroit River, between Windsor and Detroit (4).

With the environmental impact assessment (EIA) having been completed in 2009 (5) (which was criticized for its lacking of scientific robustness (6)) it is nonsensical to void the EIA laws that should now guide this bridge’s progress.

Government officials have reasoned that this legislation will protect the project from potential lawsuits (7). This only disadvantages those likely to be negatively impacted by its construction. This law is operational disempowerment of Canadian citizen’s ability to legally challenge the project if environmental injustices were to occur.

Transport Canada states that project proponents are still “expected to comply with the intent of existing laws” (8). Though, this is not a legal requirement. They further insist that its construction will be “without delay or stoppage” (7). The current bridge in place has been operating for 84 years, and somehow the immediate need for a new passage is so crucial that the legal assurance requiring the project to follow its actual environmental planning is dismantled. This furthers the role of EIA from one of environmental justice and responsibility to that of an optional political tool.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty holds an economic action plan report as he rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa October 18, 2012, prior to Bill C-45’s passing.
Source: The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

The laws in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act are not without purpose. They ensure that approved projects follow protocol, and guarantees developers to their environmental stewardship. Ridding the project from all environmental responsibility does not facilitate sustainable construction practices, and restraining the public from challenging the development is fundamentally antidemocratic.

This law sets a precedent, allowing government to simply nullify environmental impact assessment laws when they may pose inconvenient for development. This then calls into question the very purpose of EIA in Canada, or any environmental law, if the Conservative Government can simply void them when desired.

Link to the Bridge to Strengthen Trade Act (Division 5): http://goo.gl/tCcjd

However, at least the environment wasn’t completely forgotten by all government officials:

“[The proposed bridge] cuts out a lot of traffic lights in Windsor. So that’s good for the environment” – Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the United States (9).

Link to the Bridge to Strengthen Trade Act (Division 5): http://goo.gl/tCcjd

References:

(1) CBC. “Native Bands Challenge Government’s Failure to Consult Them”. CBC News. Jan 72013 http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/01/07/first-nations-bands-bill-c45-court_n_2428191.html

(2) Bell, Sonya. “Budget bill exempts Windsor-Detroit span from environmental assessment”. iPolitics. Oct 18 2012. http://www.ipolitics.ca/2012/10/18/budget-bill-exempts-proposed-windsor-detroit-span-from-environmental-assessment/

(3) Parliament of Canada. “House Government Bill – C-45, Royal Assent (41-1)”. Dec 2012. http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=5942521&File=140

(4) U.S. Secretary of Transport. “Detroit-Canada bridge much more than just another river crossing”. Fast Lane Blog. 2012. http://usdotblog.typepad.com/secretarysblog/page/6/#.UP7HVOg5jSk

(5) Detroit River International Crossing Project. “Environmental Assessment Report”. 2009. http://www.partnershipborderstudy.com/reports_canada.asp

(6) McDermott, Dan. “Sierra Club launches legal action to stop DRIC bridge”. Sierra Club Canada. Aug18 2012. http://www.sierraclub.ca/en/media/release/sierra-club-launches-legal-action-stop-dric-bridge

(7) Chase, Steven. “Ottawa shields new Windsor-Detroit bridge from lawsuits. The Globe and Mail. Oct 19 2012. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ottawa-shields-new-windsor-detroit-bridge-from-lawsuits/article4621953/

(8) Vander Doelen, Chris. “Canada Fires Back at Moroun”. The Windsor Star. Oct 18 2012. http://blogs.windsorstar.com/2012/10/18/canada-fires-back-at-moroun/

(9) CBC. “Transport minister says path clear for Detroit-Windsor bridge”. CBC News. Nov 7 2012. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/story/2012/11/07/wdr-michigan-proposal-six-bridge-windsor-detroit.html

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