New emissions reduction bill won't be ready by end of year as planned

·3 min read

It was the Nova Scotia government's marquee piece of environmental legislation — one that would bring in the stiffest emissions reduction targets in the country.

Now it is delayed.

Environment Minister Gordon Wilson confirmed Thursday that an inability to do the necessary consultation to develop regulations for the Sustainable Development Goals Act means the bill will not be proclaimed by the end of the year as scheduled.

Passed in October 2019, the bill is supposed to replace the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, which expires at the end of December.

The consultation is necessary because, unlike the existing bill, the government decided to move almost all of the new legislation's goals into regulations. It means until those regulations are developed, the bill cannot be proclaimed.

Advocate calls delay 'unacceptable'

Wilson told reporters broad consultation was scheduled to begin in March, but the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the ability to have the type of meetings necessary for the work.

"Staff had put a lot of work, the department did, into having what I thought was a tremendous piece for us to go out to consultation that included everybody," he said.

"And unfortunately, that all changed."

Noreen Mabiza, energy co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre, called the delay "unacceptable."

"We have climate targets that need to be reached in 2030, as well as 2050. Those dates are coming up," said Mabiza.

'We need to adapt'

While it's understandable that COVID-19 has slowed down many things, Mabiza noted climate change isn't one of them.

"We need to adapt to the situation that COVID has thrown at us," she said, adding the government needs to quickly announce dates for when consultation will happen and how it will take place.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the government could have avoided this scenario if the new targets were part of the bill, as opposed to being left to regulations. During debate in 2019, the NDP criticized the government's decision to leave the bill so late into the life of the legislation it's supposed to replace.

"They put these very important matters in real jeopardy and they have not shown any of the ingenuity or adaptability or initiative to figure out another way to get those goals in place and functioning in the light of the COVID situation," said Burrill.

Wilson said his department is trying to regroup in a way that allows everyone to be heard. At the moment, the focus has been on conversations among various government departments and conversations with "targeted stakeholders," he said.

'It is going to be challenging'

But Wilson said it isn't appropriate right now to do all the consultation he wants with the broader public.

"It doesn't say that we're not working towards it today, but at this point in time, it is very challenging to ensure that we have a quality product," he said.

Even with the delay, the minister said he's heartened by the response he's seen to the bill and what it represents from the general public and industry.

There are other environmental programs in place, including the cap-and-trade program, that Wilson said prevent him from worrying about slippage in the province's efforts to reduce emissions.

There are no plans for legislation this fall that would either extend the life of the existing act or change the dates of the new legislation to keep the government in compliance with its own laws.

"From my understanding, that isn't necessary," said Wilson.

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