Commitment to sustainability, public participation and reconciliation essential in next-generation assessment law
OTTAWA – A coalition of experts from Canadian environmental groups and academic institutions is calling for stronger safeguards and fairer processes for reviewing proposals in the federal government’s new assessment law. A bill to replace the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 is expected to be introduced in Parliament as early as next week.
In a brief released today, the coalition outlines key expectations for the new legislation based on recommendations developed by leading experts across the country who have been deeply involved in the government’s environmental assessment (EA) review. The document is intended to help those examining the bill – such as Members of Parliament, media, and the public – to identify key highlights, gaps and barriers to achieving a law that works for nature and communities.
“Throughout the review process, Canadians have been clear about the need for a new EA law that promotes sustainability, allows the public a meaningful say in decisions that affect them, advances reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and achieves Canada’s climate change and biodiversity conservation commitments,” said Anna Johnston, Staff Lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law Association. “Now is the time for the government to turn its promises into action.”
Following commitments to modernize Canada’s environmental laws, the government appointed an Expert Panel to hear from Canadians. The Panel conducted an extensive public engagement process, and while many of the Expert Panel’s recommendations reflect leading-edge thinking on EA, proposals in the government’s subsequent Discussion Paper suggest that the new bill may fall short in addressing major flaws in Canada’s assessment regime.
“Tinkering with the current law is simply not good enough,” said Joshua Ginsberg, Director of Legislative Affairs with Ecojustice. “It’s time for the government to make good on its promise to restore public trust in environmental decision-making, which means giving Canada’s assessment framework a complete overhaul.”
This coalition of experts will be looking for a number of important features in the new bill, such as a legislated requirement that decisions reflect the best option for achieving lasting environmental, economic and social well-being; legislated regional and strategic assessments; “triggers” to ensure that a broad range of proposed activities are assessed; provisions for co-governance with Indigenous nations; and requirements to provide meaningful public participation processes.
“For Canadians to be confident that decision-making on projects like pipelines and mines is credible and consistent, all assessments must be led by the revamped assessment authority – not industry-captured regulators like the NEB,” said Patrick DeRochie, Climate & Energy Program Manager at Environmental Defence.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild and strengthen one of Canada’s most important environmental laws,” said Robert Gibson, Professor at the University of Waterloo. “Credible impact assessment means looking at the bigger picture, and making informed, fair, democratic decisions that integrate environmental, social and economic values and deliver positive legacies for the future.”
The new assessment bill is expected to be tabled by early February. The organizations and experts involved in the law reform efforts will remain actively engaged in the Parliamentary process to ensure that a strong bill is passed into law.