Environmentalists say the federal government’s passage of Bill C-38 spells dark times ahead for everything from salmon to endangered species due to weakened federal laws.
Opponents campaigned online and demonstrated at Conservative MPs’ offices across the Lower Mainland this month in hopes of convincing 13 Tories nation-wide to vote with the Opposition to defeat the omnibus budget implementation bill.
It passed the House of Commons late Monday but must still go through the Senate in the coming weeks and get royal assent.
Georgia Strait Alliance executive director Christianne Wilhelmson called it a “devastating blow” that alters long-standing pillars of Canadian environmental protection.
She was among numerous activists reacting Tuesday, arguing the Conservatives have put their agenda to advance development and oil pipelines – such as Kinder Morgan’s planned Trans Mountain pipeline twinning – ahead of wildlife habitat.
“What’s going to happen when that pipeline needs to go through areas where there are fish our government has deemed unimportant?” Wilhelmson asked.
The impacts won’t be fully understood for years, she said, but added environmental groups will find ways to fight back.
“British Columbians can look forward to low protection for wild salmon, fewer environmental safeguards for large industrial projects, less science and more political interference with Canada’s remaining environmental laws,” predicted Wilderness Committee policy director Gwen Barlee.
Bill C-38 also streamlines environmental assessments, which critics say will accelerate approvals for new oil pipelines across B.C. and reduce the opportunities for concerned citizens to be heard.
“Ignoring democracy and silencing First Nations in environmental assessments of major projects will only bring conflict to our territories,” said Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip.
Greens are also angry about provisions that could yank the charitable status of environmental groups whose activities are found to step too far over the line from charitable advocacy to politics.
Government ministers have argued the environmental protection changes are reasonable, replacing many outdated or unreasonable provisions that in some cases prevented farmers from maintaining drainage ditches that had been colonized by fish.
The budget law also pushes eligibility for Old Age Pension back two years to age 67 for younger Canadians and reduces eligibility for some users of Employment Insurance.
The Tories dodged more detailed scrutiny of the changes by embedding many non-budget related provisions in the budget bill, despite Opposition complaints.