Analysis: Bill C-69 — An Economy And Energy Security Killer

The Trudeau government’s Bill C-69, currently undergoing second reading by the Senate, is one bad piece of regulatory legislation.

It has been universally panned by resource industry-types for being a business killer. In fact, it’s much worse. It’s a piece of legislation suited for the old world order, not our new Trumpian world, with nary a thought towards energy security.

In an interview with BNN Bloomberg on September 6, independent Alberta Senator Doug Black said: “Under this proposed legislation, we’re not going to need to worry about the time for projects and the opposition of projects, because we’re hearing from companies that would be natural proponents to develop the Canadian resource industry, simply saying: ‘We’re not even going to apply.’”

In mid-August, in an interview with the same television network, former TransCanada CEO Hal Kvisle called Bill C-69 an “absolutely devastating piece of legislation” for the Canadian oil and gas industry. “I don’t think any competent pipeline company would submit an application if Bill C-69 comes into force,” he said.

In a scathing critique on September 14, Licia Corbella, an opinion writer for The Calgary Herald, likened the potential destructive power of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Bill-69 to that of “his famous father’s disastrous and infamous National Energy Program.” For any of you too young to remember the NEP, a big ouch!

Finally, the Ontario and Saskatchewan governments refused to sign the communique at the end of the annual Energy and Mines Ministers’ Conference, held in Iqaluit, Nunavut in mid-August. The communique said, among other things, that federal and provincial governments would work to "ensure an effective regulatory review process that enhances economic competitiveness and maintains a sustainable environment."

The resource ministers of Ontario and Saskatchewan released a joint statement the day after the energy and mining conference explaining their rationale for refusing to sign the communique. "The changes  in the new Impact Assessment Act would result in a more complex, costly and time-consuming process, while creating uncertainty that could ultimately erode Canada's economic competitiveness," the statement read.

For the sake of illumination, Bill C-69 includes three separate acts — Impact Assessment Act, the Canadian Energy Regulator Act and the Navigation Protection Act — and is proposing to create an Impact Assessment Agency and replace the National Energy Board with the Canadian Energy Regulator.

The Alberta government signed the communique. During a press conference following the conference, Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd said: “We had a lot of opportunities as ministers to raise our concerns and cautions on the bill going forward. Absolutely I feel we were heard and we’ve got a lot of work to do yet.” Talk about delusion and understatement!

In response to the barrage of criticism against Bill C-69, Trudeau has continued with his “don’t worry, be happy,” mantra. On September 6, he told reporters in Edmonton that the new regulatory legislation would help future pipeline proposals avoid the legal quagmire the Trans Mountain expansion (TMX) project is now mired in.

“We put forward a revamped environmental assessment process in Bill C-69, that moves forward and strengthens environmental assessments and strengthens partnerships with Indigenous peoples, but also provides greater clarity for proponents and industry so that they know if they go through this process they are much less likely to be slapped down with a court case like [Trans Mountain],” Trudeau said.

But we should worry, and we have no reason to be happy with the proposed regulatory legislation given that the Trudeau government evidently does not understand business nor geopolitics. This is no longer the world of Barack Obama. Rather it’s a “dog eats dog” Realist world, and the sooner “flower power” Trudeau comes to realize it, the sooner he will be able to effectively protect Canada’s national interests.

A prime example of Trudeau’s misguided view of our current world is his government’s botched NAFTA renegotiation. The Trudeau government went into negotiations speaking of “modernizing” the treaty, partly by including progressive chapters on gender rights, labour rights and the environment. Earlier this year, both the Canadian Press and National Post quoted numerous Trump administration officials who viewed these progressive chapters as irritants for a successful trade renegotiation.

At the same time, on June 5, during an interview with Fox News, Larry Kudlow, the White House economics advisor, said Trump would prefer separate trade talks with Canada and Mexico to bypass the NAFTA impasse and to get individual deals with each country. “His preference now, and he asked me to convey this, is to actually negotiate with Mexico and Canada separately,” Kudlow said. “He prefers bilateral negotiations, and he’s looking at two much different countries.”

The next day, the Trudeau government negated the possibility of two-track NAFTA talks out of hand, whereas the Mexican government, which has substantially greater trade differences with the U.S. than Canada — including a large bilateral trade surplus — slipped in and cut a side deal instead, leaving Canada’s trade negotiators between a rock and a hard place (see Throw Mexico, Not Oil Industry, Under Trump Trade Bus).

As of now, Canada is going to have to make significantly greater trade concessions to the Trump administration to cut a new NAFTA deal simply because of Trudeau’s inability to accept the fact we’re now in a world where “beggar thy neighbour” is the new norm.

On that note, the basis of Bill C-69 are the environment, Indigenous rights and supposedly the economy. Energy security is nowhere in sight, despite the Trump administration’s aggressive trade tactics putting the predominant market for our oil and gas exports at risk. At a time when western Canadian producers are obtaining only half North American benchmark prices for much of their oil and gas, a border adjustment tax could be absolutely devastating to our industry — the energy sector directly accounts for 7.3 per cent of Canada’s GDP, and over a tenth when indirect activities are included.

In addition, as discussed in Time To Secure Canada’s Oil Security a few weeks back, supplies of foreign oil for our eastern refineries are increasingly at risk, with Mideast disorder prime for geopolitical competition in the emerging multipolar world (see Three Scenarios For A Strait of Hormuz Closure).

Saudi Arabia and Iraq, the other Big 3 oil producers and exporters in the Middle East are not nearly as stable as many analysts believe. Consolidation of power under King Salman’s line of the House of Saud, Crown Prince Mohammed’s (MBS) long list of foreign policy and economic failures, and draconian actions against dissent, including fellow princes, is making the regime increasingly brittle (see Canadian Pawn Takes King In Saudi Game of Thrones).

In Iraq, violent protests are on the rise because of the government’s inability to provide basic services such as electricity and water, partly due to rampant corruption, while the Shiite south, where most of the oil is produced, is riddled with well-armed militias vying for power — albeit leading to relatively few violent clashes to date.

To conclude, the Trudeau government’s Bill C-69 is beyond redemption, not just because it will severely retard oil and gas development in Canada by making it even more difficult to build new pipelines, but because it fails to take into account Canada’s energy security in our new Trumpian world.

A lack of pipeline capacity to tidewater — as well as LNG plants — endangers our oil and gas exports, while the lack of a west-east pipeline — such as TransCanada’s now-cancelled 1.1 million bbl/d Energy East project from Alberta to New Brunswick — could see refineries in Eastern Canada without feedstock in the case of a major disruption to supply in the Middle East.