Why ENGOs love Bill C-12: They wrote it

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Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, effectively makes Canada one of the few countries in the world to enshrine its Paris accord commitments into law. Although not highly publicized, this was the Liberals’ main environmental platform plank during the 2019 election campaign.

Environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs) across the country are ecstatic about these new measures. The Pembina Institute said C-12 was “historic” and would bring “real, structural change.” West Coast Environmental Law endorsed it, saying “climate accountability legislation is critical …” Ecojustice announced it was “pleased” by a “climate law that holds decision-makers accountable.” The Environmental Defence Fund (EDF) was actually somewhat critical.

That’s surprising. In its reaction, EDF included a link to a May 2020 document it had co-written with Ecojustice, Climate Action Network, Equiterre, West Coast Environmental Law and the Pembina Institute. Titled “A New Canadian Climate Accountability Act: Building the legal foundation to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050,” the document is very enlightening: The reason all these ENGOs are praising Bill C-12 is that they wrote it! Indeed, the environment minister who introduced it, John Wilkinson, could almost be accused of plagiarism.

The wording and content of Bill C-12 are entirely modelled on the work of these six ENGOs. The ENGO document highlights five key pillars that the groups believe need to be in a “Canadian Climate Accountability Act.” Comparing their five pillars and the five elements of the bill summary in legislation is eye-opening.

Pillar 1 asks for ambitious long-term targets. The bill summary promises “national targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada be set, with the objective of attaining net-zero emissions by 2050.”

Pillar 2 asks for five-year carbon budgets while Pillar 4 demands that detailed plans for meeting those budgets be shared with Parliament. The Bill commits to “targets … to be set by the Minister of the Environment for 2030, 2035, 2040 and 2045” and “requires that an emissions reduction plan, a progress report and an assessment report with respect to each target be tabled in each House of Parliament.”

Pillar 3 demands five-year reports to assess risks and impacts and to form the basis of mitigation planning. The bill requires the Climate Change Commissioner to “at least once every five years examine and report on the Government of Canada’s implementation of measures aimed at mitigating climate change.”

Pillar 5 demands an “expert climate advisory committee to advise on long-term targets.” The bill delivers on this, too, establishing “an advisory body to provide the Minister of the Environment with advice with respect to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and matters that are referred to it by the Minister.”

In sum, the five pillars from the report are the only elements in Bill C-12 and nothing in Bill C-12 contradicts them.

In July, the ENGOs met and lobbied senior government officials on the topic of legal accountability, meeting with Marlo Raynolds, Wilkinson’s chief of staff, and Erin Flanagan, director of climate in Wilkinson’s office. Getting these meetings probably wasn’t hard: Raynolds is a former executive director of the Pembina Institute, where Flanagan also worked.

Lobbying is commonplace, of course, but it is not so usual that legislation basically mimics policy papers issued by organizations with past connections to senior officials. In Canada, our environmental laws are now almost literally being written by the ENGOs.

We expect expert associations to provide their input and expertise as part of the consultation process. There is nothing wrong with that. But even industry supporters would be concerned if industry associations effectively wrote the policy and legislation without input from environmentalists.

These same ENGOs that wrote Bill C-12 often darkly warned of co-operation between resource industry groups and the former Harper government. Environmental Defence argued, for instance, that Harper-era changes to the Fisheries Act and Canadian Environmental Assessment Act came from the oil industry.

After Bill C-69 was passed, The Narwhal, an environmental media outlet, published an exposé accusing the oil industry of weakening environmental regulation because the Senate of Canada accepted some of the amendments put forward by industry. According to the CBC, Ecojustice said of Bill C-69 that the oil industry “is running amok in a Senate process and that is scary because they are only one stakeholder.”

But none of these environmental critics ever accused groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers of actually having written any law — because of course that would be beyond the pale. Unless, it seems, you’re an ENGO.

Cody Ciona is a researcher for the Canadian Energy News Network at www.CanadianEnergyNetwork.org.

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