Best Opportunity in a Generation for Environmental Law Reform
Today is a good day for nature. Today, the federal government announced its decision to establish two separate expert panels to review federal environmental assessment and National Energy Board laws, and to refer the Fisheries Act and Navigation Protection Act to the respective House of Commons committees for review.
This represents the best opportunity in a generation for reform of federal laws that govern development of natural resources. Today, the government released draft terms of reference for the two expert panels, providing a 30-day period for comment. Following the comment period, the two expert panels would carry out their public review with a broad mandate and report back to the government by the end of January 2017. The parliamentary committees would commence work in September when the House of Commons reconvenes, and would have narrower mandates focused on reversing the changes to these laws legislated by the previous Conservative government.
These reviews also represent a good opportunity to rebuild public trust in environmental assessment and institutions, which public trust has suffered greatly in recent years given the approaches to pipeline development taken in recent years by the National Energy Board.
After receiving reports from the four review bodies, the government would bring forward proposals for legislation, regulations and policies in 2017. The decision today shows that our members voices are heard and Nature Canada is very pleased that the government is working on strengthening Canada’s environmental laws.
Nature Canada is also pleased that the government has revived the environmental assessment advisory committee (a multi stakeholder body with representatives of environmental, industry and indigenous organizations) which provided consensus-based advice to the government on environmental assessment issues. The advisory committee was established in 1992 and worked until 2008 when the previous Conservative government discontinued the operations of the advisory committee.
The government’s decisions provide opportunities for better laws to conserve nature and promote sustainability; they will not necessarily lead to the outcomes we want for nature. Whether we get better environmental laws will depend on Nature Canada’s members and supporters together with naturalists, environmentalists and other Canadians to let these review bodies know what is needed.