Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Analysis of Bill C-38: Centralization of Power



With the uproar that Canada’s Bill C-38 has caused, I decided to quickly post what was actually so worrisome about this bill. The uproar I am referencing is the 24 hours of consecutive voting on 800 amendments the opposition has proposed to Bill C-38. If you read the National Post, there really is no substance to the article just quotes from rambling politicians. However, it is worthwhile to take a second look at the Budget Bill as the bill did inspire 13 000 Canadian websites to black out as a form of protest.

When I attended the 2012 Budget in March, I walked away unimpressed. The only thing that stood out for me was the removal of the penny, and even that was quite insignificant in terms of cost savings. I did like the fact that the government was moving towards paperless offices, and enjoyed the irony that the budget was printed in an expensive book as pointed out by the opposition. However, as I continued to read, some items really stood out.

First, Division 23 of Part 4 repeals the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act. This act was designed to ensure that contractors bidding on government contractors would pay their employees fair wages and overtime. To be honest, although I don’t support repealing the act, I do see some sense in it. Private industry has to usually work longer hours without pay especially in the corporate world. Repealing this Act would simply make public and private contractors on equal grounds. At the same time, I do support paying overtime and fair wages to everyone – so I do not see why repealing this bill is necessary. It could cheapen bidding on government services and lower costs, at the expense of the Canadian worker. Either way, I’m lukewarm on this topic.

The environment is clearly being attacked by Bill C-38. The Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act is repealed, the Nation Energy Board is amended, the Fisheries Act is watered down, while the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is being replaced with a new Act. Specifically, (if Bill C-38 was passed) the Fisheries Act would not apply to all fish, meaning all fish and waters where they live might not be protected. It can, and I strongly emphasize the word can, exclude many fish and their habitats. Also, the responsibility to protect the fish and their environment can be given to provinces or other entities. This is worrisome for the fact that other entities may not have the interest in preservation of environment.

Continuing on, the bill repeals maximum time limits on permits that could affect different species at risk. To exemplify, if a mine is created near a species that is extinct, there is no legal obligation for the corporation to seek an environment assessment 3 years later to see how that species has been affected by the mining activity. Continuing on this theme, the National Energy Board does not have to consider how energy projects will affect species at risk when issuing permits. To provide an example, if an oil pipeline could disrupt a significant migration route for a species at risk, this will be immaterial to the board when considering the issuance of a permit. Adding to this, if the National Energy Board rejects an application for a permit – the Conservative Cabinet now has the power (through C-38) to overrule. This is comparable to the government having judiciary power, when it is clearly know that in a democracy legislative and judiciary power should remain completely separate to avoid corruption from too much power.

Adding to this is the fact that when the National Energy Board reviews a project, environmental considerations will not be represented by an Environmental Assessment Agency. Instead, the National Energy Board will now consider the environmental impacts. Again, centralization of power.

The scary part is the replacement of the Environmental Assessment Act. Right now, the Act replacing this Act is unknown. What is known is the assessments will be less rigorous and only occur on designated projects. Designated projects are not defined – therefore it is a possibility that very little projects will require an assessment by the government.  Minister Flaherty announced at the budget that this new Act will simply lower the amount of time an assessment will take, which sounds positive. Although true, this is accomplished by replacing the regular assessment process with a speedier and less conclusive assessment. The environmental effects are now defined to impacts to fish, migratory birds, and marine plants. According to the Conservatives, the environment consists only of fish, birds and marine wildlife. This is a head scratcher.

A misconception of the Bill is that it allows American law enforcement the same power on Canadian soil. This is untrue. It simply increases cooperation between American and Canadian law enforcement agencies, but American officials still are placed under Canadian scrutiny/supervision when on Canadian soil.
The main problem I find with the bill is the centralization of power to the Cabinet and ministers. The amount of power the Minister of the Environment Peter Kent receives if Bill C-38 is passed is ridiculous. Considering he is in the running for the worst Minister of the Environment in Canadian history, and  his qualifications for the position do not exist, this man should not have this much power in a field that he knows nothing about. Peter Kent is a journalist, and worked as an anchorman and foreign correspondent. 

Bill C-38 also removes civilian oversight of CSIS and removes many of the Auditor General’s powers. I have no problem with repealing Kyoto, the Protocol did nothing and Canada doesn’t follow it anyway. Adding to this, I believe in increasing the age of retirement and decreasing public servant and governmental costs through decreasing social programs. However, decreasing social programs should be done intelligently by basing it on thorough analysis – not a speedy vote. I have already blogged about social programs becoming a social problem.

Basically, this is a massive bill rewriting, repealing or replacing roughly 70 laws and Acts that is being rushed through Parliament. It involves heavy centralization of power to the federal government, specifically the Cabinet, and blatantly reduces environmental protection. This bill should not be passed based on those tenets alone. 

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