Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and the leaders of the other three provincial parties are offering an olive branch to the Trudeau C-69 government, saying they are now ready to accept the controversial review of Canada's environmental assessment process – up to when the amendments of the Senate are part of it
In a joint letter to Senator Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Senate, Peter Harder, the multi-party group calls on the government to accept the changes made to the C-69 law – including long-requested amendments by oil and gas lobbyists – to avoid a constitutional battle federal-provincial jurisdiction in natural resources.
"While we remain concerned about the general spirit of Bill C-69, we believe that with the inclusion of all these amendments, the bill would be acceptable for the interests of the Albertans," reads the letter, signed by Kenney, NDP leader Rachel Notley, the leader of the Alberta party, Stephen Mandel and David Khan, the leader of the liberal Alberta party.
The Senate Energy Committee last week approved more than 180 amendments which, among other things, would limit the ability of the Environment Minister to interfere in the regulatory process and stop and start project deadlines.
The committee also amended the amendments to curb public participation in the project review process to ensure more timely decisions and supported the changes that would consolidate the role of offshore oil panels in the approval process.
"We invite the entire Senate to respect the resolutions of the Standing Committee equally … and vote in favor of this whole package of amendments," the leaders said.
The letter marks a tonal shift for the Alberta leaders. Kenney has long asked the Senate to kill the project, while Notley described the liberal proposals as a "fugitive fugitive".
The letter, obtained from CBC News, states that Bill C-69 "in its unmodified form would seriously threaten the exclusive provincial jurisdiction of Alberta on the regulation of the production of non-renewable natural resources".
The leaders also asked Harder to accept the stalemate of the Senate transportation committee on the C-48, the North Pacific. bills for transporting tankers. The committee's vote on whether to recommend the bill for the passage last week ended in a draw, which means that the recommendation has failed.
Reached by telephone Thursday, Harder told CBC News that he believes the Senate should approve the bill amended by the commission and send it back to the House of Commons, where the government can decide which amendments it is willing to accept.
This is a change in the approach for Harder; his lieutenant, government liaison Sen. Grant Mitchell, rejected a series of amendments proposed during the committee process, saying that they were not in line with the government's goal of radically reworking the evaluation process.
"I always say that I am not only the representative of the government in the Senate, I am the representative of the Senate for the government," said Harder.
"Where we are now, after the deliberations of the Senate committee, there is a large number of amendments, some of which are not necessarily in harmony with others." My opinion is that it would be better for us, as a Senate, to act reasonably quickly and send the bill back to the House of Commons so that the government can propose which of the amendments would be agreed, and then return to the Senate ".
(After the legislation has been changed by the Senate, the modified version must also pass the Commons before it becomes law).
Environmental groups have slammed the Senate amendments as a "cut-and-paste" work raised by material presented by oil industry lobbyists. In fact, the formulation of many amendments is identical to that required by the energy lobby groups, including the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
As for the C-48, Harder said that Trudeau has promised a similar ban for tankers during the last federal elections and that an electoral promise should be respected by the unelected upper house.
"We are a review room, not a defeating room," Harder said.
Only a few days after being elected premier in the April Alberta election, Kenney appeared before the Senate Energy Committee, where he invited senators to make major changes to Bill C-69. He said that Ottawa's attempt to rewrite existing evaluation legislation, abolish the National Energy Board and support indigenous participation in the approval process – among many other changes to the natural resource regime – would create uncertainty for a sector that is facing limited capacity of pipelines and craters advantageous prices.
"There is a growing crisis of national unity in Alberta that would be exacerbated by the adoption of this bill and other policies like this," said Kenney. "If this bill proceeds, it will be a message to the people of Alberta that the federal government does not care about a devastating period of economic adversity in our province."
Kenney also said he was ready to launch a constitutional legal challenge against the legislation if it was approved by the Senate as written, saying that Ottawa was unfairly meddling in an area of provincial jurisdiction.