Omnibus bill could impact transparency on changes to oil and gas regulations, Bloc Québécois MPs warn

·4 min read

Multiple Bloc Québécois MPs are concerned a bill currently being debated in the House of Commons threatens to weaken transparency around changes to Canada’s oil, gas and petroleum regulations.

Two proposed amendments within the omnibus bill involve the Canada Petroleum Resources Act and the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act, which regulate exploration and production. The changes would repeal certain provisions that require the government to publish draft regulations in the Canada Gazette, the federal government’s newspaper, which Canadians can read to learn about new or proposed regulations and statutes, and use to submit comments and feedback.

The proposal to repeal this requirement is “deeply shocking” and “very serious,” said Bloc Québécois environment critic Monique Pauzé in an emailed statement to Canada’s National Observer. “Once again, we are witnessing increasing opacity on the part of the government.

“Nothing in the Canada Gazette means no public access or input and therefore no opportunity to intervene on issues that could prove detrimental to the environment and communities,” she said.

Bill S-6 is part of a federal initiative to modernize the regulatory system and make things easier for companies.

MPs across the political spectrum agree there is a broad need to reduce red tape. The Senate’s study of the bill revealed many regulations are irrelevant, no longer used or enforced, and serve to impede innovation and economic growth. The 46 amendments proposed in Bill S-6 aim to eliminate those barriers and redundancies, as well as make additions to improve efficiency.

One of the points Bloc MPs kept coming back to was the two oil, gas and petroleum amendments.

“We fear that this would make it possible to amend the regulations to benefit oil companies without informing the general public,” Bloc MP Sébastien Lemire said in French. The party’s agriculture critic, MP Yves Perron, also chimed in.

“When I see the words ‘natural resources’ and ‘oil’ together, and that the requirement to publish information is being lifted, I have some serious doubts… Is it because they want to sneak things past us?” said Perron.

Bloc MP Jean-Denis Garon is concerned the bill doesn’t distinguish between minor regulatory changes and “more consequential ones,” such as the proposed changes to the Canada Petroleum Resources Act and the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act.

Liberal MP Kody Blois agreed “it is very important to publish major regulatory changes” and voiced his support to study the matter further in committee.

There are major projects that need to get done, for example, in the critical minerals sector, Blois pointed out in debate. As the bill moves along, one of the key questions is how Parliament can “create efficiencies in the permitting process without compromising our public policy values,” said Blois.

The Senate’s work concluded the proposed amendments are “low risk and deal largely with … modernizing existing processes,” said NDP MP Blake Desjarlais. For example, allowing the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act to interact with and deliver services to businesses electronically, instead of having everything done on paper.

With proposed changes to 29 different statutes spanning a dozen federal organizations — including Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; Fisheries and Oceans Canada; and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada — the debate varied widely.

Moving forward, Bloc MPs want to see more specifics on repealing those sections of the oil and gas and petroleum acts. MPs can ask more questions and discuss those amendments when the bill moves from the debate to committee stage.

Rather than modernizing regulation for industry, these amendments represent “indecent deregulation,” said Pauzé.

Natural Resources Canada says the amendments “would allow for a more streamlined process” when amending regulations related to “technologies and technical standards” and make it easier to correct discrepancies between the official languages and grammatical errors.

Stakeholders and partners, including industry and regulators, have reported an “unnecessary administrative burden” when processing “regulatory deviations for requirements that are outdated” and a general “lack of agility” when making straightforward administrative amendments to oil and gas regulations, according to an emailed statement from Natural Resources Canada.

The department said exempting proposed regulatory changes from publication in Canada Gazette 1 would “still need to be sought and approved on a case-by-case basis.

Natasha Bulowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer