It was refreshing to hear the Manitoba government announce that it will be holding a Clean Environment Commission (CEC) hearing on the mining activities of the CanWhite Sands project.
This is the first CEC hearing to be called since the current Progressive Conservative government took office in 2016, and it comes after much pressure from the public.
However, I suspect the underlying goal is to demonstrate that the provincial government is now under new leadership.
We are now waiting for the public notice to be posted on the CEC website to have a clearer idea of ââthe rules of the hearing and the composition of the panel body that will preside over the hearings.
The government recently appointed a new CEC president, who will assume the post on January 1. It turns out to be Jonathan Scarth, the former Principal Secretary and de facto Chief of Staff to former Prime Minister Brian Pallister.
I have participated in several CEC hearings since the 1990s, and this is the first time, to my knowledge, that a former senior decree political staff has been appointed to chair the CEC.
Concerns about holding a full-fledged CEC hearing have already been raised. In a November 25 article in the Carillon newspaper, an anonymous government source said: “Rather than providing funds to a number of parties to examine the environmental effects, the Clean Environment Commission has been asked to provide an independent technical assessment of the proposal in accordance with under the terms of reference. include the engagement of a consultant to provide technical expertise, and the commission will ensure that relevant issues are assessed by the consultant. This assessment will be made public and accessible to all parties. ”
This is not good enough. Many organizations that have followed the CanWhite Sands (CWS) silica sand mining project in recent years are calling on the Minister of Conservation and Climate to release funds, through the Human Resources Assistance Program. participants, so that groups with limited resources but considerable expertise can participate meaningfully and constructively in hearings.
It is also unfortunate that the mandate given to the CEC by the Minister requires that the CEC only examine the proposed Environmental Law (PAE) submitted by the SCF for its activities related to the extraction of silica sand, as there are still many unresolved issues with the EAP SCF for its proposed processing facility.
To date, these concerns have gone unanswered, so the proposed processing facility should have been included as part of the mandate as well.
It should also be noted that the recommendations to the Minister that will be issued by the CEC are just that – recommendations. The Minister has no legal obligation to accept or implement the recommendations of the CEC and only has to provide a written explanation of why she accepts or ignores any of the recommendations put forward.
It now remains to be seen whether this CEC process will be a meaningful, fair and transparent exercise, and not just one that demonstrates that there is a new leader in town doing business as usual.
It is imperative that those who have presented evidence-based scientific information on the CFS EAP have the opportunity to question company experts publicly and under oath during CEC hearings. We need to verify the veracity of the information the CFS has included in their EAP. We must have access to information that the CFS has intentionally omitted or about which it has remained vague in its EAP. And it should be obvious that we need to be able to bring in independent experts to provide testimony and evidence.
After all, the fate of the aquifer that supplies drinking water to all of Southeastern Manitoba is at stake.
Don Sullivan is currently Director of What The Frack Manitoba, was Special Advisor to the Government of Manitoba for seven years, is a recipient of the Queen’s Jubilee Medal and a Research Associate for the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba.