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Feds Solicited Industry Support for “Very Controversial” Environmental Reforms

The Harper government knew in early 2012 that proposed regulatory reforms tabled in the contentious Omnibus Budget Bill C-38 would be "very controversial." As a result a parliamentary secretary to the minister of Environment Canada was directed to seek the cooperation of a major tar sands developer, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL), regarding the proposed changes, saying "the reforms, when introduced, may be very controversial. I hope we can count on your support."

The comments, revealed in secret briefing notes released to Postmedia News through Access to Information requests, were prepared for Environment Minister Peter Kent's parliamentary secretary, Michelle Rempel. The secret documents show behind-the-scenes coordination between industry and Environment Canada occurred well before the federal government overhauled environmental laws last summer or even proposed the changes in Parliament.

Similar communication did not occur with First Nations or environmental groups.

The briefing notes provided Rempel with specific talking points intended to highlight the role industry interests played in the overhaul of environmental protections.

"Resource development is certainly among the major industrial sectors that are top-of-mind as we consider the modernization of our regulatory system," the notes read.

Rempel, who met with Bill Clapperton, CNRL vice-president of stakeholder and environmental affairs on February 2, 2012, suggested the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers – Canada's most powerful oil and gas industry lobby group – had also "pointed to potential areas for reform."

The documents are part of a larger body of internal documents that highlight the federal government's close liaison with the oil and gas industry.

In September 2012, Postmedia's Mike De Souza reported on internal briefing notes prepared for Minister Kent before a meeting with the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association. They showed the federal government's promise that new legislation would lighten regulation of industrial projects.

"Pipeline development is certainly among the major industrial sectors that are top-of-mind as we consider the modernization of our regulatory system," the documents stated.

An additional internal document from late 2011 and only released earlier this month, showed numerous oil and gas industry groups requested changes to existing environmental laws that they deemed not beneficial to industrial activities. The Harper government granted these requests only months later with the radical overhaul of environmental protections through Bill C-38.

The federal government appears to have pushed through these massive environmental reforms – eliminating some 3000 environmental reviews in tandem – despite the caution of Environment Canada officials who told Kent such reforms could "weaken public trust and credibility in the environmental assessment process…especially when applied to major projects such as oil sands developments or large mines."

Those comments, originating from Environment Canada, came from internal briefing notes, prepared for Minister Kent, and released through Access to Information legislation to researcher Ken Rubin.

The notes continued, "it is in the interest of all parties that the federal and provincial governments fully meet their respective mandates for the protection of the environment in relation to oil sands development," adding anything less could "undermine the government of Canada's ability to fulfill its responsibilities," reported De Souza.

These internal documents, now released, demonstrate the extent to which Harper's budget legislation appears to be designed with industry interests in mind, or rather, "top-of-mind."

Image Credit: Emissions from tar sands refineries by Kris Krug. Used with permission.

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