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 reform.
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 improved.
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.