BRITISH COLUMBIA

MLA wants B.C. to tear up pact giving Ottawa power over pipeline reviews

05/13/2015 07:21 EDT | Updated 05/13/2016 05:59 EDT
VICTORIA - The Green party member of the British Columbia legislature has designed a loophole in recall legislation that he says would allow residents to regain control over approval of oil pipelines.

Andrew Weaver introduced a private member's bill that would help the B.C. government pull out of a controversial agreement that gives all power over such environmental assessments to the federal government.

He said his plan would provide B.C.'s government the ammunition to take strong action against a federal government likely to be inflamed by the move.

"It's actually giving the government a way out," Weaver said on Wednesday. "A process like this would allow the citizens of B.C. to demand that their government do it."

Weaver's proposal centres around regaining B.C.'s authority to conduct independent environmental assessments for projects like pipelines, mines and dams.

In 2010, the province signed a deal with the federal government that relinquished its approval authority, so that any environmental assessment carried out by a joint panel of federal agencies would also stand as B.C.'s evaluation.

Weaver wants the province to withdraw from that pact and return to holding its own reviews. The federal government would continue to produce its own approvals based on the current work done by National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

Weaver's strategy involves building leverage to use with the federal government in the form of amendments to the Recall and Initiative Act — the same legislation that ultimately led to the repeal of the harmonized sales tax.

The bill would change the way initiatives work, so that a petition would only need signatures from a total of 15 per cent of registered voters provincewide. The current act has a more onerous threshold, requiring the signatures of ten per cent of registered voters in each of 85 electoral districts.

A successful petition under the amended act would still prompt either a debate in the legislature or a non-binding referendum.

Weaver would not lead the initiative should his bill pass, but rather urge the public to take it on.

"This is essentially saying 'We do not trust a process that is allowing an external jurisdiction to determine our future,'" he said. "'We want to determine our own future.'"

Environment Minister Mary Polak said her government has no plans to consider Weaver's proposal.

She stood behind the decision to enter the equivalency agreement, noting that at least in the case of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the project is interprovincial and so the federal government would retain "final jurisdiction."

"We believe there should be one project and one process," she said of the multibillion-dollar proposal, which has prompted ongoing protests from First Nations and environmentalists as its assessment continues.

"Where we do believe there are deficiencies, we're making that clear in our submissions."

During the 2013 provincial election, Leader Adrian Dix promised that if his New Democrats were victorious they would opt out of the equivalency agreement.

— Written by Tamsyn Burgmann in Vancouver

Follow @TamsynBurgmann on Twitter