Senators hopeful about Bill C-69's Senate survival as study kicks off
The Senate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Wednesday, February 6, 2019 8:02PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 7, 2019 11:21AM EST
OTTAWA -- Amid calls for the Senate to quash a contentious piece of legislation dealing with the assessment of big energy projects, senators are predicting that those studying Bill C-69 will be able to reach a consensus and keep the bill alive.
The Senate Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee met publicly for the first time on Wednesday as it begins it study on Bill C-69.
"I think that there are enough people who want to see positive amendments to the bill, I hope, that we can actually have a consensus across party lines that brings a better bill out of committee," Independent Senator Paula Simons, who represents Alberta, said. "I’m not interested in killing the bill."
Independent Senator Doug Black, who also carries Alberta's banner in the Senate, echoed Simons' sentiment.
"There’s a clear willingness to make this work," he said.
Both senators attended Wednesday's committee meeting.
Bill C-69 has been controversial since its tabling in the House of Commons just shy of a year ago. It sets out to establish new timelines and parameters for big energy project reviews, increase early Indigenous consultation on energy projects and lift limits on who can participate in the assessment process.
Industry insiders are warning that the proposed overhaul would increase the complexity of these impact reviews and could encourage more litigation – factors that could ultimately hit Canada’s competitiveness. These concerns have sparked protests and appeals from some for Ottawa to kill this bill.
The Conservatives have also been framing the bill as a government effort to "phase out Canada’s resource sector."
"Bill C-69 will kill resource jobs in Canada and ensure no new pipelines will ever be built," Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer tweeted on Oct. 28. "Bill C-69 is how he will do it."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has since pushed back on these accusations.
"We're doing the kinds of things that investors and businesses have asked for to get clarity; so things can get done, so they can know whether or not to move forward with the project, that's what we're doing," he told Evan Solomon during a year-end interview, which aired during a Dec. 16 episode of CTV Question Period.
While the government has signaled its openness to amending the legislation, their goal is to pass the bill before the upcoming fall election – a timeline that is looking increasingly unlikely.
The major determinant in that timeline – and the bill's fate overall – is the Senate. The bill is currently being studied in the Senate Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee, who plan to take it on the road to get input from around the country.
While already established lines were drawn deeper into the sand, the tone of the meeting left Simons feeling optimistic.
"I think there’s a – probably, for people – surprising degree of collegiality around the table," she said.
"I think that there are some good alliances that can be built across the table here… I'm hopeful, as a very new member of this committee, that I can build alliances and that we can get the votes we need to get a better bill out of here."
However, Black had one caveat for the bill's passage.
"The Government of Canada needs to do their job. They have to signal clearly that amendments brought forward by the Senate will be accepted by the House of Commons," Black said.
"If we don’t have that clarity in advance of us doing our work, then I think there’s other questions that need to be asked."