The federal government of Canada was under fire from the Alberta Supreme Court following a plan to enact the Environment Impact Assessment Act. This act would allow federal governance over industrial projects, like oil and coal mining, in the province. In 1995, the act was created for the purpose of environmental management and was meant to assess the possible consequences resulting from these projects. As conservation becomes a major focus around the globe, the Canadian government strives for solutions to reduce harmful emissions and environmental exploitation. However, with the country’s continued economic struggle, some political focus remains on the provision of jobs and resources for citizens.
The Supreme Court of Alberta values infrastructure for its support of the economy, increased job opportunities, and community resilience. Still, Alberta’s efforts to build a greener and more sustainable industry remains crucial in many of their plans. As of October 2014, the environmental assessments regarding upstream oil, gas, and coal development have been implemented by the Alberta Energy Regulator, a provincial government agency. Most assessments have been carried out by the provincial government to ensure that the projects stay on course with environmental risk reduction. The Impact Assessment Act, or Bill C-69, is currently reviewing 32 projects in the country. Recently, the federal government proposed the act over provincial projects, this act would include the rights to transport and communications projects that are outside provincial borders, such as railways or pipelines.
Alberta has a complicated history with the federal government specifically with the control of natural resources. The province’s wish to keep up with infrastructure is of great importance, so the act was immediately questioned and evaluated by five Supreme Court judges. Alberta premier Danielle Smith spoke out about the federal government’s decision, “this legislation, also known as the “no more pipelines” act, but I’ve been calling it the “don’t build anything anywhere” act, is an existential threat to Alberta’s economy.” The supreme court had concluded that the law was “unconstitutional” and too broad with its inclusion of provincially controlled projects. The Court successfully ruled over its enactment, demanding further review of the terms and conditions. “Where they went so wrong though, is they presumed to step into our jurisdiction by trying to make decisions on major projects that fall completely, 100% within Alberta borders in which we have, historically, always had the right to make decisions over,” said Smith, expanding that this is “the part of the act that needs to be removed.” The federal government is aiming to improve the act, as it remains a priority for increased risk reduction in climate change.
Despite not having complete jurisdiction over the industrial plans in Alberta, federal authority is legally authorized to enact the Impact Assessment Act in areas of proven environmental crises caused by industries, such as danger to a species. “We will continue to move forward with respect to the climate agenda, and that’s something the Court has upheld,” said Jonathon Wilkinson, Canada’s minister of energy and natural resources. According to Wilkinson, the government never intended to interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction and is making amendments to ensure future focus on areas of federal jurisdiction. “I’m being very proactive, I’m being very collaborative — they’re the ones that are going too far,” Smith argues about the federal government. Environmentalists and conservationists challenge the idea that the law should not only be applied to provincial areas. The legislation may not be seen as unconstitutional among experts, but rather in need of additional tweaks to ensure its security in court. Decisively, this could guarantee Canada’s goal of a carbon neutral country by 2050.