No More Pipelines Act: Here’s what it means
By Bella Coco, Contributor
On Friday, Oct.13, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government’s impact assessment law (also known as the Impact Assessment Act) for major project approvals is unconstitutional. The ruling brought Alberta a huge victory for projects such as the coal mines and the oil sands after years of fighting and unrest from the Alberta government and its residents.
What is the Impact Assessment Act?
The act, also well known as Bill C-69 or the “No More Pipelines Act”—infamously dubbed by former Alberta premier Jason Kenney—is a legislative body that allows the Government of Canada to process the assessment and the impacts of large designated projects.
Projects that require assessment are large endeavours, such as pipelines, mines, highways, or nuclear facilities to name a few. Out of the 32 projects in the assessment process, 20 are under assessment by the old Impact Assessment Act (IAA) legislation.
On Oct. 13, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Arif Virani, and the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, both stated their acceptance and respect for the Supreme Court’s decision
Additionally, they both committed to address the projects affected by the ruling, and to provide guidance to the Indigenous partners involved.
In a news release by the Government of Canada on Oct. 26, Guilbeault announced guidance by the Canadian government on the interim work on Bill C-69.
“The Supreme Court of Canada’s opinion on impact assessment means we now have clarity to better align the IAA to areas of federal jurisdiction while continuing to protect the environment,” Guilbeault wrote. “The Government of Canada is doing its part and looks to the provincial governments to do theirs, so we can work together to protect the environment and advance sustainable development in Canada in the spirit of cooperative federalism.”
What does this mean for Alberta?
Alberta has been at odds with the federal government long before the Impact Assessment Act. The topic of calls for climate action has been a controversial topic in Alberta as the majority of the province’s wealth is from the oil and gas industry.
At a news conference following the ruling, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith celebrated Alberta’s win from the Supreme Court decision.
“We are extremely pleased with the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision confirming the unconstitutionality of the federal government’s destructive Impact Assessment Act,” Smith said.
In addition, Smith stated how the Impact Assessment Act was responsible for Alberta losing billions of dollars in multiple sectors of the economy.
“Today’s ruling represents an opportunity for all provinces to stop that bleeding, rebuild investor confidence, and track those jobs back into our economies,” Smith said. “Today I am pleased to say Alberta is once again open for business.”
For Alberta, the No More Pipelines battle was about money just as much as it was about dominion.
According to Canada Supreme Court Judgements, classifying the legislation was a challenge as the “environment is not a head of power.” The Canada Supreme Court Judgements touched on the importance of environmental protection, and while Parliament has the power to step in to preserve protection, Parliament also “has the duty to act within the…framework laid out in the Constitution.”
After review of the legislation, five out of the seven judges found the act unconstitutional.
What exactly makes the Impact Assessment Act unconstitutional?
According to an opinion written by Chief Justice Richard Wagner—who wrote for the majority— the Impact Assessment Act seeked to “regulate activities within provincial jurisdiction,” deeming the act unconstitutional.
The “special projects” aspect of the act remained unbalanced, as federal jurisdiction for said projects were not regulated.
“Environmental protection remains one of today’s most pressing challenges. To meet this challenge, Parliament has the power to enact a scheme of environmental assessment,” Wagner wrote. “Parliament also has the duty, however, to act within the enduring division of powers framework laid out in the Constitution.”
Wagner wrote that both levels of government— provincial and federal— can provide leadership for environmental protection.