Federal Discussion Paper provides reasonable framework for new Environmental Review Law, but . . .

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Ottawa (June 29, 2017) – A federal discussion paper released today in response to the recent independent panel report Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada provides a reasonable framework for a next-generation federal law to assess development projects.

“The federal government’s discussion paper is a step in the right direction to restore public trust in how Canada’s natural resources are developed,” says Stephen Hazell, Nature Canada’s Director of Conservation and General Counsel. “However, Nature Canada has several important concerns with the discussion paper, which perhaps can be addressed in the legislative drafting process” adds Hazell.

Key positive directions described in the discussion paper include:

  • Establishing a single federal agency to guide and conduct federal assessments;
  • Ensuring that this federal agency has the lead role on joint panel reviews assessing the impacts of pipelines and nuclear projects (The National Energy Board and Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, respectively, would still have a role on these panel reviews, but not the lead role);
  • Expanding the scope of assessments beyond environmental impacts to include economic, health and social impacts;
  • Requiring an early engagement and planning stage for all impact assessments to ensure better-designed project proposals and more effective assessments;
  • Providing for direct engagement between Crown representatives and Indigenous people to discuss project impacts;
  • Eliminating rules limiting public participation such as the “standing” test used by the NEB; and
  • Providing for a more deliberate approach to assessing cumulative effects, such as through strategic and regional impact assessments and an integrated open science and data platform.

Nature Canada has identified several concerns with the federal government’s discussion paper:

  • It is unclear what projects will be required to be assessed under the new law. The discussion paper proposes assessing projects included on a list similar to the current designated project list established using clear criteria and a transparent process (but the criteria and process are nowhere described).
  • Unfortunately, the government apparently has rejected using permitting requirements under key federal environmental laws such as the Fisheries Act and Navigation Protection Act as triggers for federal assessments.  Nor has the government signalled that impact assessments will be mandatory for development projects in National Parks or National Wildlife Areas, or ones that produce high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The discussion paper does not use the word “sustainability” and it is uncertain how decisions will be made with respect to the assessments conducted under the new law. The law needs to include criteria to ensure that inappropriate trade-offs (e.g., short-term employment gains as against long-term environmental harm) are avoided.
  • The engagement of Indigenous peoples in decision-making relating to impact assessment will require more consideration as well as consultations between Indigenous People and governments.

For more information, please contact:

Stephen Hazell | Director of Conservation & General Counsel, Nature Canada
613-562-3447 ext. 240 (office)
613-724-1908 (cell)
shazell@naturecanada.ca (email)

For media assistance or further information contact: 

Janet Weichel McKenzie
Media Specialist, Nature Canada
613-808-4642 jweichelmckenze@gmail.com

About Nature Canada

Nature Canada is Canadian nature conservation charity. Over the past 75 years, Nature Canada has helped protect over 63 million acres of parks and wildlife areas in Canada and countless species that depend on this habitat. Today, Nature Canada represents a network comprised of over 45,000 members and supporters and more than 350 nature organizations across the country and with affiliates in every province