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An Overview of Canada’s Environmental Assessment Regime

This edition of  Environment and Energy Bulletin was co-authored by Karen Graham, Consultant to the Business Council on Public Policy and Research, Denise Mullen, Director, Environment and Sustainability, Business Council of British Columbia, and Jock FinlaysonExecutive Vice President & Chief Policy Officer Business Council of British Columbia

  • As the Liberal government takes up the reins in Ottawa, it has signalled a shift in its approach to energy, environment and natural resource development, particularly in the context of resetting relations with Aboriginal peoples.  As it sets out to review Canada’s EA processes, several key principles should be top of mind:
    • The integrity of the regulatory process and institutions are best maintained when they are at arms-length from the political realm.
    • A core purpose of a regulatory body is to evaluate technical matters in an impartial way, free from undue political or stakeholder influence.
    • Regulatory reviews that set (and adhere to) timelines promote certainty for proponents and contribute to a favourable setting for investors.
  • Much of the recent public commentary on Canada’s regulatory processes has had little to do with substance and instead reflects dissatisfaction with the larger public policy process.  At their core, current processes are based on science, facts, and evidence -- and from that perspective they do serve the public interest.  What has not been facilitated is the much larger conversation about the trade-offs between competing interests.
  • Any changes to EAs should be based on an analysis of what needs improvement, acknowledging the fundamental purpose of EAs and what they are and are not intended to do.  Government should lead the larger public policy debates about what is in the public interest, how Aboriginal groups participate, and how the public can express its views.  Government should also consider the suggestions made here: embrace the Crown’s duty to consult Aboriginal groups in parallel to regulatory processes, and provide policy leadership on matters such as cumulative environmental effects and greenhouse gas emissions management.
  • Working with the provinces, Canada can ensure that our EAs remain transparent, fair and rigorous, while enhancing the country’s reputation as a rules-based jurisdiction that emphasizes clarity and certainty in its regulatory processes and ensures that resource and infrastructure projects are responsibly developed and operated.

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