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April 11th 2019 - Bill C-68, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence - Various Witnesses

Senator Poirier: I have a few questions. If I run out of time, I am sure you will let me know. My first question is for WaterPower Canada. In a letter you submitted to then Minister of Fisheries Dominic LeBlanc, you highlighted three major impacts on both existing and new hydro power. Could you elaborate on the impact for wind and solar generation resulting in more GHG emissions.

Ms. Audouin: In our submissions, we try to always highlight the role that hydro power plays for this country. In my introductory remarks, I noted that hydro power is 60 per cent of the total clean and renewable electricity that is generated in Canada. It is huge. It makes us the second largest generator in the world, and it makes our grid one of the cleanest in the world.

If we have regulations in place that make working those facilities and developing those new sites more difficult, we see a real risk. In this case with Bill C-58, it could jeopardize new development and the workable operational viability of those projects. The cascading effect is that we would not be able to contribute as much as we are now to the decarbonization of the economy. That’s what the comment in that letter pertains to.

Senator Poirier: I am going to question a little on the regulatory process. Like you said, in Canada we already have a high standard regulatory process for hydro-power projects. By adding the water flow provision to the bill, it will effectively make any new and future project impossible to complete if understood correctly. Have you had discussion with DFO and Minister of Fisheries on the water flow clause of Bill C-68 and, if so, were they open to amend it?

Ms. Audouin: I will let Dan Gibson elaborate on flow in particular, further to what he said earlier. We have talked to DFO, one of our key government stakeholders. The discussion is ongoing. A public statement made in the Senate a few weeks or months ago that the government, through a member of the Senate, voiced its openness to amend clause 2.2. All of us are waiting to see what that might look like.

Mr. Gibson: I appreciated the question earlier on the flow aspect. The attributes of a fish habitat are diverse and many: flow, temperature, substrate, velocities, aquatic vegetation, degree days and productivity. These are all attributes of habitat, but in isolation they are not habitat themselves. They all contribute.

You talk about a flow provision and you talk about future projects in Ontario. To your question specifically, when you open up and broaden the term habitat, you are able to isolate it down to a single attribute of that habitat. You create the opportunity for challenges at the project level when your project proposes any change to the existing flow regime of a river system, managed or otherwise. It is not just for greenfield facilities, but it is for building a hydro-power facility on an existing waterway that is already managed. If your project proposes any change to the existing management, you open up the opportunity for somebody to challenge it on a Fisheries Act provision because you are holding water back or you are changing the flow regime timing quality.

Again, allowing that challenge to occur on an attributive habitat creates many cascading problems, figuratively and literally, on the landscape for future projects.

Senator Poirier: On the water flow insertion in the bill, it’s my understanding this clause was done late in the committee process Green Party MP Elizabeth May, but the government left it in the bill at third reading. Did you have discussions with the minister on why they kept it in the bill? Has DFO or the minister indicated to you how they intend to enforce the quantity, timing and quality of the water flow?

Mr. Gibson: I had the privilege of speaking with, I believe it was, the parliamentary secretary to the minister on this issue. They continue to reiterate the independence of the parliamentary committee to introduce changes or amendments to the bill, and they want to support that independence.

That being said, it goes without saying that we’ve had to do a risk or am impact assessment of the perpetual flow changes. We’ve had to articulate what we believe would be a provision of flow in the Fisheries Act and what that would mean to our industry. We look at instantaneously passing flows.

I’ll cite some statistics here. OPG, for example, predicts a loss of between 0.8 and is 1.4 terawatts of clean, renewable power in our province if this flow provision is introduced and implemented the way it is currently written. That would come at a cost to the ratepayer of about $72 million a year.

More important, what has to come in place of that loss of hydro power is a peaking source of energy. We can’t necessarily backstop the loss of that power with solar and wind, as much as we would like to do so. We would honestly be backstopping that with another peaking source of power, which is at this point natural gas in Ontario. You would be looking at adding millions of tonnes of CO2 back into the grid, which is largely GHG emissions free at the moment.

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Senator Poirier: This question is for the Canadian Electricity Association, Mr. Toner. How exactly did DFO respond to your concerns that Bill C-68 will discourage new investment in hydro power?

Mr. Toner: Our discussions so far with various levels of the department on up through almost the minister have been very non-committal. I think that’s the best way I would describe it.

One of the examples I would suggest is that we’ve had ongoing comment with regard to the regulation on authorizations. We’ve seen recently the second version of a discussion paper that does not address a fundamental concern we raised with them, which basically is that existing facilities may now, under the increased scrutiny, benefit from an authorization. They have existed for a long period of time with known conditions and with probably very limited incremental impact.

In that regard, we’ve been advocating that under the regulation we think there should be either a scoping down, an alternate pathway for existing or the ability to at least examine the context of it. So far, I had a meeting earlier this week over at the department. There is no guarantee that will be addressed. That concerns us greatly.

We think we will want to get more authorizations. It’s 2019, and many of these facilities, as you recall, were built before the provisions came into the act. They came in the 1970s. Most of our facilities were built in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. They have existed. They were built under the laws of the day. We’re looking for a response at the regulatory level, and so far we’ve not had any response from them that has given us confidence that it will be addressed.

Senator Poirier: Both of your organizations, in your presentations, recommended a number of amendments. Were those amendments also presented to the House of Commons committee, assuming you were all witnesses at the committee? Were all those amendments presented there? Were more presented there? Were some accepted that were presented, or were they all kind of pushed aside?

Mr. Toner: The Canadian Electricity Association presented approximately five or six in maybe a little more detail. We wanted to keep it to the ones we thought they could wrestle with, and I think we went out for five. That’s the easiest way to describe it. That’s why we’re here again to talk to the chamber of sober second thought.

Mr. Gibson: I assure you they were presented. I delegated before the committee twice on behalf of WaterPower Canada, on behalf of my company. In fact, we actually presented a few more. Our position has always been that we want to support the government’s review of the Fisheries Act. We want to support the government’s intentions to improve it. Therefore, we haven’t brought all of the recommendations back to the Senate today, simply because we understand that we are in the final hour here. We want to lay out our case for some of our primary concerns.

We had concerns around going back to HADD, harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat at the time, but we understand the larger conversation for our industry is around flow. That’s what we wanted to focus our real push today on.

Mr. Perera: When we went before the House of Commons, we didn’t have the same issue with the habitat definition. Obviously that wasn’t discussed in detail there, and this happened after our discussions with the department. Even they were very concerned about adding flow to the habitat definition. That is now a major concern for us. If you think about it, even the department didn’t have the time to do any kind of analysis in terms of the implication of changing the definition of habitat.

Ideally they should look at the impact assessment of adding this new definition. What are the economic and social costs? They didn’t have the time to do it. Based on all the evidence we have shared with you, that is why we think you should seriously consider dropping this definition and going back to what the department suggested in the first round of this bill.

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Senator Poirier: Could you tell me what the impact would be of an assessment of Bill C-68 water flow, if you have an impact assessment of what would be the effects of the flow with Bill C-68?

Mr. Gibson: Much of this flow provision is in anticipation of what it will be defined as. When OPG, Ontario Power Generation, looked at our generation portfolio on hydro power, we determined that we would take an 80 per cent instantaneous passage of flow as a principle for meeting the objectives of the new definition of “fish habitat.” We would no longer be peaking and holding back water or meeting grid demands, outside of the greenhouse gas emissions impact which would bear out. We’ve detailed the impact on our organization in terms of flood mitigation and the role we play in flood mitigation. Everyone can remember the spring of 2017 in Ontario and the Ottawa Valley. We had a once in a generation flood event. We had the capacity to hold water on the watershed with our water management plans. We have detailed some impacts. One of the outcomes was that the city of Montreal would have been under a metre more of water if we had not had the ability to store water on the watershed because of flooding in the Great Lakes. We’ve detailed that in terms of the impact on an 80 per cent flow threshold by only peaking or holding back 20 per cent of the system and allowing 80 per cent to continuously pass through.

I have used the example of Bark Lake near Thunder Bay where we practised that winter drawdown in the late winter and early spring to anticipate that spring flood. If we don’t have the ability to flush that water out, draw the lake levels down so they can fill up with the spring freshet, we create not only an insurance risk for the City of Thunder Bay but a massive flood risk to the infrastructure downstream.

I can speak specifically to terawatt loss simply because when you pass your fuel downstream, you pass your water downstream and you’re not able to hold it back to meet the grid demand. There is a loss of green electricity in the province that has to be backstopped with something else.

Mr. Toner: Another thing to think about is that Canada is an interesting and beautiful country. Not every province is identical. The same is true of the electoral grid and the sources of electricity. In each province, it plays a different role. In Ontario, B.C., Manitoba, maybe even Newfoundland and Quebec, hydro is a significant piece of the generation. In other provinces it is part of it but a very important part. The same argument around flood control would be made in New Brunswick. If they were not able to do what they could, then Fredericton would be under water. Last year, even in spite of that, was under a fair amount of water.

In Nova Scotia we have a smaller ability. We don’t have long rivers. You are never more than 50 or 60 kilometres from the sea. We use hydro in Nova Scotia for peaking, mostly, except during the rainy season. Replacing that would be with natural gas or coal. That’s not where we’re going.

We have obligations under other acts and regulations for greenhouse gases that are taking us to a much different make-up, including import from other provinces. The ability to have some control to use the hydro for what it was actually built for in the first place and understanding that there will still be specific studies, we get our hydro sites renewed provincially every 10 years. The federal government, through DFO, participates.

Each of those is an opportunity to tweak the requirements based on it now being 2019 and emerging trends. There’s already a fairly robust regime in place in a large number of areas. That’s why this last-minute addition coming right out of committee was a bit of a surprise to all of us. It concerns us. Other than the work that Dan Gibson referred to, we haven’t had a chance to get a real good analysis. We know it is problematic.

Senator Poirier: I have a question for WaterPower Canada. On your website it says that over the next 20 years, hydro-power project development could benefit Canada with over $125 billion in investment and millions of jobs.

How will Bill C-68 affect this important potential for hydro power over the next 20 years?

Ms. Audouin: That’s a very good question. Hydro power employs more than 100,000 people across the country. We are always in the top five infrastructure projects in the country. It is a huge provider, both in terms of billions generated for the Canadian GDP and in terms of jobs.

WaterPower Canada represents all the hydro-power producers in Canada. When we talked to our producers across the counter, everyone raised a red flag. Everyone is very concerned about Bill C-68. We talked about flow at length, but the fundamental issue is that the bill or the act was never drafted or intended to include that section. It was never within the intention of the drafters to include a section on flow. It was added at the last minute with no prior discussion and no prior consultation, which could probably have alleviated some issues.

I cannot stress enough that it would be a dramatic consequence on the industry, both with regard to that clause 2.2. There are other issues that we feel can be addressed through regulations. There are definitely things that we urge this committee to look at and amend before it goes into force so that we don’t have to wait for regulations to make it workable for the industry.

Senator Poirier: Thank you.

Mr. Gibson: That is a great response. I can only add that I would remind the committee that 60 per cent of Canadians rely on hydroelectricity for their source of power on a daily basis. That is largely in response to grid demand. At eight o’clock in the morning when everyone turns their lights on, that is when hydro power really kicks in with its value.

As we look to electrify, I would add that I think some of the government’s goals are to electrify more industries in our country. The transportation fleet needs to be electrified. Perhaps home heating will be electrified in the future. That will come with support from on-demand power from hydro power.

WaterPower Canada has done an excellent job of articulating the thirst and desire for Canadian clean energy exports, one thing which our company didn’t do. As our neighbours to the south as they look to transition off coal, they are looking to Quebec, to Ontario and to Manitoba for clean energy exports to help them with their transition off coal and gas. Our industry needs to be there as a growth industry to support that transition.

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Senator Poirier: Thank you both for being here this morning. Do you think the scope of Bill C-68 reflects the needs of the North?

Mr. Maurice: Yes, the bill speaks to Indigenous reconciliation. That’s why we are optimistic in terms of the wording and the inclusion of partnerships with Indigenous organizations. We have had some challenges in the North, as I alluded to in my presentation. We have spent 20 years trying to negotiate a set of Nunavut fisheries regulations that reflect the Nunavut agreement and Inuit right. This bill allows an environment for appropriate policy development that would further enhance the socio-economic circumstances of Inuit in the North.

Senator Poirier: Do you think the act adequately incorporates traditional knowledge into the decision-making process?

Mr. Maurice: It’s certainly a lot more than what we have had before, which was nothing. More important, we will have a challenge at our end in terms of Indigenous organizations appropriately recording Indigenous knowledge and having databases or sources from which we can draw to participate meaningfully in that process.

Senator Poirier: How can DFO offer more support to the North?

Mr. Maurice: At the end of the day, it’s money. NTI is a small organization. It has been left out of various Indigenous fisheries programs. We have not had the opportunity to access Aboriginal fisheries funding. Recently we saw the AICFI and the AAROM funding the roll out that we could potentially access and tap into, but historically Nunavummiut have not accessed fisheries funding in the past.

Senator Poirier: Have you had the opportunity to share your concerns on Bill C-68 before the House of Commons committee?

Mr. Maurice: Not presently, I don’t think. This is our first kick at the can. I know this is late in the game at third reading but, to be fair, there was a lot of engagement and consultation on Bill C-68 in the North. There was a lot of dialogue and engagement leading up to it.

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