Two leading Canadian outdoor equipment companies are lobbying the federal government over the effect that changes to environmental protection in the Conservative's omnibus budget bill could have on Canada's outdoor recreation market.
Officials from Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) and Canadian Tire met with policy staff at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and Environment Canada earlier this month.
MEC CEO David Labistour and Canadian Tire associate vice-president for government relations Robert Nicol had two meetings on Sept. 14—one with each department—to get a better understanding of the measures contained in Bill C-38, the omnibus budget bill that passed in June, MEC public affairs manager Tim Southam said in an interview.
The companies met with senior policy officials and an assistant deputy minister, he said, without giving any names. No elected officials attended, he said. Communication reports don't have to be filed with the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying until the 15th day of the month following the communication.
“As much as anything it was an opportunity to share some information from our side about the outdoor recreation industry in Canada and to get a better understanding of the proposed changes to environmental legislation in Canada,” Southam said of the meetings.
Bill C-38, passed in June, amended the Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, the National Energy Board Act, the Species at Risk Act and other statutes to speed up reviews of new energy and mining projects, and environmental assessments. It also gave the federal cabinet more authority to approve projects.
Nicol said the attention the bill has received in recent months led his company to want to learn more about it, though he stressed Canadian Tire didn't have any particular concerns and wasn't lobbying to change the legislation.
“One: there have been concerns that have been raised by third parties,” he said in an interview. “Two: we wanted to talk about the importance of the outdoor recreational economy—tourism, natural resources. And three: we wanted to have an opportunity for the department and others to talk about their perspective on the bill and some of the next steps that would come out of the legislation and the regulations.”
Southam said some people believe the changes proposed in C-38 could negatively impact the environment, which could in turn affect MEC's business.
“Our members are recreating in places because of the value that they place on having a pristine, natural environment,” he said. “They're going into wilderness places because they're wilderness, and if those places happen to be adversely affected by resource development then that could have a potential negative effect on our business.”
MEC registered Sept. 21 to lobby Environment Canada, the DFO and the PMO on how Bill C-38 “pertains to changes to existing federal environmental and fisheries legislation, and how those changes may affect outdoor recreation and the outdoor industry in Canada,” the federal lobbyist registry says.
Southam said it was the co-op's first government relations work, though it has partnered with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society to protect wilderness areas and has provided grants to the Nature Conservancy of Canada “to ensure that places where our members are recreating are protected.”
He said MEC and Canadian Tire had the same goals, and that Canadian Tire has lobbyists in Ottawa with more experience in government relations.
In-house lobbyists for Canadian Tire are registered to arrange “[m]eetings regarding the importance of the outdoor recreation economy and the implementation of certain proposed changes to the Fisheries Act,” among other asks, the registry says.
Southam said that Statistics Canada doesn't formally evaluate Canada's outdoor recreation market, but the Outdoor Industry Association in the U.S. reported that Americans spend $646 billion each year on outdoor recreation.
“So even if Canada's is a tenth or a fifth of the size of that, we are part of a significant industry in Canada,” he said.
Southam said MEC has “formal objectives around environmental conservation” and that the co-op, which has 3.8 million members, had been hearing from some of its stakeholders about the bill's potential impact.
The co-op's website lists “conservation” among its three “visionary goals” and includes “advocacy and interest groups (conservation, environment, outdoor recreation, and human rights)” among its “other important stakeholders.”
Canadian Tire's website also includes the environment as one of its priorities to being a “responsible corporate citizen.”
Southam was pleased he had made contact with the two departments.
“They have a better understanding of the size of the outdoor industry in Canada so that there's hopefully a channel of communication that's been opened and if we have concerns in the future that we'll be able to relay them and have a receptive ear in Ottawa,” he said.
He said the co-op isn't planning to join any advocacy campaigns on the issue.
Nicol said the meetings were very helpful and productive, and that they outlined some of the facts and motivation behind the legislation.
Editor's note: This story was originally published as a Lobby Note on Sept. 24 before being revised as a news story Sept. 25.