For Better or Worse? Changes to Environmental (Impact) Assessment

July 3, 2018
Jock Finlayson

It feels like back to the future – or like being on an endless treadmill – as governments in Canada take steps yet again to “reform” environmental assessment legislation while also pursuing a myriad of other changes to other environmental and energy regulatory processes. The pretext is political messaging about a lack of public confidence in “the system” for managing environmental issues. In our view, this is largely a manufactured crisis of words over substance. Neither Canada nor BC is on the verge of environmental Armageddon or decay, no matter how loudly some groups argue otherwise. Yet both in both Canada and BC, policy-makers seem to be intent on “fixing” a system that is not broken.

Canada initiated a review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012 in June 2016, along with reviews of the Fisheries Act and Navigation Protection Act. These reviews are ending after 24 months of significant effort on the part of many stakeholders. But British Columbia has now decided to add to the uncertainty and rising costs facing industry by launching several environment-related reviews within its own jurisdiction. This includes a planned “revitalization” of the province’s environmental assessment (EA) process.

From the business community’s perspective, the changes proposed in the federal government’s environmental/impact assessment processes are not improvements. Time will tell if the outcomes of the BC review are positive or negative.


  • The government of Canada initiated a review of environmental assessment in June 2016 and tabled Bill C-69 (Impact Assessment Act) in February 2018; it is now in third reading.
  • British Columbia initiated a review of its Environmental Assessment Act and process in April 2018 and is scheduled to present proposed changes by the end of 2018 – too much too fast when combined with other reviews underway.
  • Whatever the intentions of policy-makers, the changes being introduced to federal environmental assessment and energy regulatory regimes are likely to discourage investment and job creation in Canada's natural resources, infrastructure and manufacturing sectors by raising costs, further complicating project reviews, and adding to Canada's reputation as a place where large projects go to die.
  • Most discouraging, BC may be on the same path as Canada. Only time will tell if the outcomes from the BC review are positive or negative.
  • Neither Canada nor BC are in the middle of an environmental crisis despite messaging to the contrary from some politicians and interest groups.
  • Ultimately, Canadians and British Columbians pay the price for the uncertainty created by the myriad of changes to our environmental and energy regulatory processes currently underway. Yet we seem intent on fixing a system that is NOT broken, undermining competitiveness in a world where we are price takers for the resources and manufactured good that dominate Canada's exports.

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