On February 8, following 14 months of consultation and review, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change introduced the mammoth Bill C-69 An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts . The government press release from Environment and Climate Change Canada highlights these talking points about the proposed legislation- It will: Restore public trust through increased public participation; Included transparent, science-based decisions; Achieve more comprehensive impact assessments by expanding the types of impacts studied to include health, social and economic impacts, as well as impacts on Indigenous Peoples, over the long-term. Also, it promises “One project, one review” – through a new Impact Assessment Agency, (replacing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency) which will be the lead agency, working with a new Canadian Energy Regulator (replacing the National Energy Board), as well as the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and Offshore Boards. Further, it will make decisions timely; Revise the project list; Protect water, fish and navigation ; and Increase funding. The detailed government explanation of the changes is here ; other summaries appeared in the National Observer in “ McKenna unveils massive plan to overhaul Harper environmental regime” ; “Ottawa to scrap National Energy Board, overhaul environmental assessment process for major projects” in CBC News; and in the reaction by The Council of Canadians, which expresses reservations about the protection of navigable waters, and these “Quick Observations”:
“1- the current industry-friendly Calgary-based National Energy Board would be replaced by a proposed Calgary-based (and likely industry-friendly) Canadian Energy Regulator
2- it includes the ‘one project, one review’ principle as demanded by industry
3- assessments of major projects must be completed within two years, a ‘predictable timeline’ also demanded by industry
4- the bill notes the ‘traditional knowledge of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada’ but does not include the words ‘free, prior and informed consent’, a key principle of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
5- McKenna said that no current projects (including the Kinder Morgan pipeline which crosses more than 1,300 water courses) would be sent back to ‘the starting line’
6- the government is seeking to implement the law by mid-2019.”
An overview of other reaction appears in “New Federal Environmental Assessment Law Earns Praise from Climate Hawks, Cautious Acceptance from Fossils” from the Energy Mix. Reaction from West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL) is here ; and from Environmental Defence here . The Canadian Environmental Law Association sees some forward progress but warns that “the Impact Assessment Act is marred by a number of serious flaws that must be fixed in the coming months.” Reaction from the Pembina Institute says “Today’s legislation improves the federal assessment process by centralizing authority for impact assessment under a single agency; providing a broader set of criteria for assessing projects including impacts to social and health outcomes; and removing the limitations on public participation that were put in place in 2012…. Building on today’s legislation, we would like to see progress towards the establishment of an independent Canadian Energy Information Agency to ensure that project reviews include Paris Agreement-compliant supply and demand scenarios for coal, oil and gas.”
Companion legislation, also the product of the lengthy Environmental Regulation Review, was introduced on February 6, Bill C-68 An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence (Press release is here ; there is also a Backgrounder comparing the old and new legislation). Most importantly, Bill C-68 restores a stronger protection of fish and fish habitat – the HADD provision – to the definition used before the 2012 amendments by the Harper government. (HADD = the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat). Reaction is generally very favourable: The David Suzuki Foundation says : “The most important changes we were looking for are part of these amendments” and West Coast Environmental Law says that the proposed legislation “meets the mark”. Reaction is also favourable from the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax . And from the Alberta Environmental Law Centre, some background in “Back to what we once HADD: Fisheries Act Amendments are Introduced” .
And finally, where does the new environmental assessment process leave Canada’s Indigenous people? The new legislation includes the creation of an Indigenous Advisory Committee and requires that an expert on Indigenous rights be included on the board of the new Canadian Energy Regulator body, according to a CBC report, “Indigenous rights question remains in Ottawa’s planned environmental assessment overhaul” . Minister McKenna is also quoted as saying the government will “try really hard” to conform to the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – a statement that is not satisfactory to some Indigenous leaders. See “Indigenous consultation and environmental assessments” (Feb. 7) in Policy Options for a discussion of the issue of “free, prior and informed consent”. On February 7, Private member’s Bill C-262, an Act to Harmonize Canada’s Laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples passed 2nd reading in the House of Commons.