IN THE NEWS ~ Trio of ministers make surprise visit to C-38 subcommittee
May 17th, 2012 - 2:36pm
Published | Publié: 2012-05-17
In a surprise move, three cabinet ministers showed up at the finance committee's budget sub-committee Thursday morning to defend the government's looming changes to environmental policy.
Environment Minister Peter Kent, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, and Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield all turned up at the committee, which had not been anticipated only a day before. The committee was due to select its chair, but at the last minute a long list of witnesses was added to the schedule, as the ministers appeared alongside departmental officials.
In his opening statements, Kent repeated much of what he'd said during Tuesday night's Committee of the Whole, when opposition MPs had four hours to question the minister on his department's main estimates for the upcoming fiscal year. He told the committee that the government takes environmental protection "very seriously", and warnings that Canada's assessment agency was going to have its budget cut in the upcoming budget were an "exaggeration."
"I'm confident that Canadians will benefit from timely, high quality environmental assessments," Kent told the committee. He added that the idea behind the government's plans was to eliminate duplication and speed the process.
But the opposition worried about the future of consultations for proposed project assessments.
New Democrat MP Peter Julian asked Oliver to clarify how the bill redefines who is "directly affected" by a proposed project, and wondered whether there had already been a guideline set. The opposition fears that interested parties might now be barred under the new rules.
That decision will be taken by the panels that are conducting the hearings, Oliver replied, again repeating that those who are "directly affected" and "therefore have an interest," but did not provide any definition for either of those terms.
He added that, for example, a hearing on the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project does not include in its scope the issue of global warming or greenhouse gas emissions. "Important though those issues are," Oliver said, "they're not issues that are directly related to the project in question."
The ministers were all only present for one hour, something that Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan and NDP MP Jack Harris both complained was simply not enough to discuss over one hundred pages of environmental changes that are in the budget implementation bill. Duncan said it was "farcical."
Julian tweeted the NDP had "got only a heads up'" and that they would push to have the ministers return.