Critical debates have been sparked following the announcement by
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver of an overhaul of
environmental assessment rules. So far it appears that voters have
accepted that some change to environmental assessment rules is
worthwhile, but the public will be paying close attention to the
motives behind any change. The stakes are high for both the
Conservatives and the NDP.
The question of motive is a risk for the government as well as
for the opposition. For the Tory government ministers who talk
about the amount of potential interventions will be reinforcing the
public confidence that they are exercising good governance.
However, it has been suggested that spending millions to audit
environmental NGOs may make voters wary that the motive of the Tory
government is to smother legitimate debate, or that they are not
confident that their ideas will hold up under scrutiny. For the NDP
opposition, the risk is that criticizing proposals for change will
portray disinterest in the economy, or indifference to legitimate
The Conservatives and the NDP have both made calls for the
middle ground. Minister Oliver has emphasized the importance of
robust regulation (regardless of whether implementation is by
federal or provincial officials) in the overhaul of environmental
assessment rules. While the NDP environment critic, Megan Leslie,
has also acknowledged that there are areas where regulation can be
As the debate unfolds, if Conservative motives are trusted,
there will still be a need to ensure the policy features appear,
and are, sound. Therefore, the details of the environmental reform
package will matter and will be of consequence. Both the
Conservatives and the NDP will be weakened if their motives appear
to be ideologically driven, and they will be strengthened if they
concentrate on sensible solutions.
The hope is that the outcome of the debate will be constructive,
that is, an important piece of legislation properly thought out,
and debated on its merits.
Lee Axford, Student at Law
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