Conserving Nature and Getting to Sustainability through Federal Environmental Law

Image of Stephen Hazell

Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel

In July, the federal government announced public reviews to consider reforms to four key environmental laws that had been gutted by the former Conservative government in 2012: Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, and National Energy Board Act.

Here are some important changes that Nature Canada would like to see in these new laws:

Fisheries Act

  1. Bring back protection of all fish habitat, not just habitat that supports commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fisheries.
  2. Require environmental assessments of proposed development projects that would harm fish habitat before permits to begin construction are issued. Proceeding with construction without a permit would be unlawful.
  3. Develop regulations that focus on preventing harm to fish habitat from bigger projects and cumulative harm from many small projects in threatened watersheds.

Navigable Waters Protection Act

  1. Bring back protection of the ecosystems of navigable waters as well as rights to navigate in all navigable water.
  2. Require environmental assessments and permits for works that interfere with navigation on navigable waters, with limited exemptions only for truly minor works on truly minor waterways.

Canadian Environmental Assessment Act Image of wetlands

  1. Require assessment of the environmental, social and economic sustainability of federal policies, programs and projects, and not just adverse environmental effects.
  2. Require assessment of climate change effects of all projects with large greenhouse gas emissions or that involve new fossil fuel infrastructure and require mitigation measures to reduce those emissions consistent with Canada’s international commitments. Also require assessment of the effects of global climate on proposed projects over the life-time of projects.
  3. Ensure assessment of cumulative effects of development, whether through strategic, regional assessments or project assessments.
  4. Ensure assessment of the environmental effects of catastrophic, if unlikely, events such as oil tanker spills and mine tailing dam failures.
  5. Engage indigenous governments and communities as governance partners in the environmental assessment process of projects, as is the case in Canada’s three northern territories.
  6. Guarantee minimum standards of procedural fairness to participants in environmental assessments, such as the right to be heard and the right to question proponents orally in hearings.

National Energy Board Act (and Nuclear Safety Act)

  1. Require that environmental assessments of pipelines and offshore oil and gas projects, be carried out by independent panels and not by the National Energy Board or the offshore oil and gas boards.
  2. Require that environmental assessments of nuclear energy projects also be carried out by independent panels and not by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Federal Science and Compliance Capacity

  1. Rebuild federal science and compliance capacity to ensure protection of fish habitat and navigable water ecosystems, and carry out rigorous environmental assessments of proposed federal policies and programs, and projects requiring a federal decision.

Email Signup

Want more nature news?

Subscribe to Nature Canada’s online community!