Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Harper Government Being Taken to Court Over Lack of Accountability

Recent reports have revealed that 90% of the infrastructure projects are proceeding without an environmental impact study, and as a result two agencies are taking the Harper government to court.

Now I know that many people will say that they were being forced to get the money out the door as soon as possible, so didn't have time for any studies. However, there are two contradictions to that. First off, they dragged their heels when it came to providing any stimulus at all.

Remember the Parliamentary crisis?

And second, they sure did a lot of study into how they could direct the stimulus money into improving their political fortunes, while ignoring any notion that the money should go to communities who suffered a greater impact from the downturn.

Projects may avoid federal review
Cabinet okays exemptions Infrastructure work to be funded without environmental-impact studies
Canwest News Service
November 16, 2009

More than 90 per cent of the thousands of new infrastructure projects across the country are slated to get funding from the Conservative government without being required to undergo a federal assessment of their environmental impact, Canwest News Service has learned.

Although environmental assessments are generally required for projects that receive federal funding, exemptions were approved by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet last spring to speed up the approval process on certain types of projects with small budgets.

The small percentage of environmental assessments is the result of a program designed to kick-start projects and avoid extensive consultations that would "slow projects and threaten Canada's economic recovery," the government said.

"Large-scale projects that could potentially impact the environment were generally not eligible for the infrastructure stimulus fund," said Chris Day, a spokesman for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Minister John Baird.

"They may be considered for funding under other envelopes with longer timelines."

As a result, out of more than 3,000 projects that were approved for funding under the government's multibillion-dollar infrastructure stimulus fund this year, only two per cent will go through a federal process to evaluate their environmental footprint, according to Day.

Only 15 per cent of more than 1,200 projects approved for funding as part of the government's Building Canada fund for new infrastructure required the federal environmental assessment, he explained.

But some projects may still require a provincial assessment.

The exemptions for federal assessments were not introduced through legislation in Parliament and have been challenged in court by two environmental organizations, Ecojustice and the Sierra Club of Canada.

"It seems like they (members of the Harper government) are just making decisions arbitrarily," said Justin Duncan, a staff lawyer at Ecojustice.

The new figures were released following a scathing report this month by the federal environment commissioner, Scott Vaughan, that questioned whether the government is doing enough to find out whether its assessments were preventing adverse environmental effects from new projects.

Francine Richard, who directed the research on environmental assessments for the commissioner's report, said the federal process sometimes consisted only of a checklist of questions about whether there would be negative impacts.

"That's not sufficient,' she said. "We expect at least one sentence or something saying, 'This is not ... a concern and this is why.' "

Vaughan has recommended the government consider its findings as it does a scheduled review of the federal environmental-assessment legislation in the next year.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice has said he accepts the commissioner's recommendations.

At the time it introduced the exemptions, the federal government acknowledged in its notice that it had not done any specific consultations on the package, and there could be a risk of negative consequences for the environment.

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