The federal government is proposing new rules for the review of major projects, and a replacement of the National Energy Board with a new Energy Regulator to review energy-related projects.
According to the announcement, better rules will protect the environment, fish and waterways, rebuild public trust, and create new jobs and economic opportunities for the middle class and those working hard to join it.
"We heard from a wide range of Canadians that previous reforms to environmental laws put our environment, fish and waterways at risk and eroded public trust. We listened and took action to fix this. With better rules for major projects, our environment will be cleaner and our economy stronger. Making decisions based on robust science, evidence and Indigenous traditional knowledge, respecting Indigenous rights, and ensuring more timely and predictable project reviews will attract investment and development that creates good, middle-class jobs for Canadians," said Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
Previous reforms to environmental laws and regulations eroded public trust and put the environment and communities at risk, according to a government statement. In response, the government put in place interim principles for project reviews in January 2016, then launched a comprehensive process to review existing laws and seek Canadians' input on how to improve our environmental and regulatory system.
These better rules reflect input from Indigenous Peoples, companies, provinces and territories, environmental groups, and the public over the course of 14 months. Under the updated rules, decisions on projects would be guided by science, evidence and Indigenous traditional knowledge. Reviews would happen in partnership with Indigenous Peoples, as well as with provinces and territories, and communities will have their voices heard from the start. Companies would have more clarity about what is required of them, and review timelines would be more predictable. Project reviews would be both more rigorous and more efficient, with reduced legislated timelines and clearer requirements from the start.
"A new wave of resource development is coming with more than $500 billion in projects planned over the next 10 years. We are building a better Canada, where investors, companies and all Canadians can have confidence that good projects will be approved in a timely manner and held to the highest standard. With these better rules, we will demonstrate how we can grow the economy and get our resources to market while advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and protecting the environment for future generations," said Jim Carr, Minister of Natural Resources.The proposed changes include:
- Restoring public trust: Increased public participation in project reviews, including a new early engagement phase. From the outset, recognition of Indigenous rights and work in partnership with Indigenous Peoples.
- Transparent, science-based decisions: Decisions are based on robust science and Indigenous traditional knowledge, and make easy-to-understand summaries of decisions publicly available.
- More comprehensive impact assessments: Replacing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, with the Impact Assessment Act, and expanding the types of impacts studied to understand how a proposed project could affect not just the environment, but also health, social and economic impacts, as well as impacts on Indigenous Peoples, over the long-term. Reviews will include gender-based analysis.
- One project, one review: Reduced duplication and red tape by establishing the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (currently the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency) to lead all federal reviews of major projects, working with other bodies like the new Canadian Energy Regulator (currently the National Energy Board), the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and Offshore Boards, and in cooperation with provinces and territories and Indigenous jurisdictions.
- Making decisions timely: Project reviews would benefit from reduced timelines compared to the current system, and will be rigorously managed to ensure they are more timely, with fewer stops of the legislated clock.
- Revising the project list: The government will seek Canadians' feedback on a more robust project list, identifying types of projects within federal jurisdiction that could pose major risks to the environment and would therefore require review.
- Protecting water, fish and navigation: Restoring lost protections for all fish and fish habitats - not just those that could be affected by major projects - by amending the Fisheries Act. Further, protections under the Canadian Navigable Waters Act (currently the Navigation Protection Act) will be expanded to better protect the right to travel on all navigable waters in Canada, covering countless rivers, lakes and other waterways. This includes extra protections for those waterways most important to Canadians and Indigenous Peoples.
- Increased funding: The government will invest up to $1.01 billion over five years to support the proposed new impact assessment regime and Canadian Energy Regulator; increased scientific capacity in federal departments and agencies; changes required to protect water, fish and navigation; and increased Indigenous and public participation.
The new rules proposed today must still be passed by Parliament. Until the new rules come into effect, existing laws and interim principles for project reviews will continue to apply to projects under review. The government will seek input from Canadians on regulations and policy changes required to accompany the legislation. Once the new rules come into effect, the government will not be revisiting project decisions made under previous legislation.
With hundreds of major resource projects - worth over $500 billion in investment - planned across Canada over the next 10 years, these better rules are essential to protect our environment and communities while making sure good projects can get built to create jobs for the middle class. Under these new rules, proposed projects would be held to a high standard - because that's what Canadians expect and deserve.
"Canadians have been clear that they expect us to safeguard our environment while strengthening our economy. The legislation is an important step in creating a transparent and fair environmental review process that protects our natural resources. As Minister of Fisheries, I am pleased to be delivering on our government's promise to restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards into the Fisheries Act. Our proposed changes to the Fisheries Act, together with the legislation introduced today, demonstrate our government's commitment to protecting our environment now and for future generations," stated Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.