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Liberal Government Initiates Environmental Assessment Processes Review

During the 2015 General Election campaign, the Liberal Party of Canada promised to make changes to the Environmental Assessment (EA) processes as part of their broader platform themes to improve environmental sustainability and promote greater consultation (and permission) from stakeholders, including Indigenous peoples.  Once elected, the Liberal’s throne speech reiterated that government would introduce new EA processes “as part of the efforts to restore public trust.”

On January 27th, 2016, the Liberals moved ahead, announcing their intention to proceed, and providing a set of interim principles to guide projects being assessed during the review of EA processes:

  1. No project proponent will be asked to return to the starting line — project reviews will continue within the current legislative framework and in accordance with treaty provisions, under the auspices of relevant responsible authorities and Northern regulatory boards;
  2. Decisions will be based on science, traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples and other relevant evidence;
  3. The views of the public and affected communities will be sought and considered;
  4. Indigenous peoples will be meaningfully consulted, and where appropriate, impacts on their rights and interests will be accommodated; and
  5. Direct and upstream greenhouse gas emissions linked to the projects under review will be assessed.

Announcement

On June 20th, 2016, the EA review process was initiated with government introducing a draft Terms of Reference.  The review will be led by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, to be supported by the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard; the Minister of Natural Resources; the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs; and the Minister of Science.

There is currently an opportunity for individuals/organizations to provide feedback (by email) on the proposed Expert Panel’s draft Terms of Reference (including mandate, timeline and procedure) until July 20th, 2016.

Creation of an Expert Panel

The Minister (of Environment and Climate Change) will establish an Expert Panel to review the environmental assessment processes associated with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012.  The Minister will appoint a panel of at least three members, including one Chairperson.

The Panel will be supported by a Secretariat of federal civil servants led by an Executive Director.  It will also be advised by a Multi-Interest Advisory Committee to be established by the Minister, with representatives from Indigenous organizations, industry associations and environmental groups.  That Committee will focus on specific issues to be determined by the Panel.  The Panel may also retain the services of independent non-governmental experts to provide advice on certain subjects within its mandate.

Scope

As part of its review, the Panel shall consider the following matters:

  1. How to restore robust oversight and thorough environmental assessments of areas under federal jurisdiction, while working with the provinces and territories to avoid duplication?
  2. How to ensure decisions are based on science, facts and evidence and serve the public’s interest?
  3. How to provide ways for Canadians to express their views and opportunities for experts to meaningfully participate?
  4. How to require project advocates to choose the best technologies available to reduce environmental impacts?
  5. How to ensure that environmental assessment legislation is amended to enhance the consultation, engagement and participatory capacity of Indigenous groups in reviewing and monitoring major resource development projects?

The Panel will also consider how to enhance regulatory certainty in the development of major projects.

Process and Report

Once finalized, the Expert Panel will engage directly with a broad cross-section of stakeholders, Indigenous peoples and public.

The Panel will prepare a general public engagement plan as well as an Indigenous engagement plan, both outlining how and when it will conduct in-person events.  They will hold in-person engagement events in regions or communities where project environmental assessments have been recently conducted or where there is interest.  The Panel will also conduct online engagement and will provide procedures for online submissions

The Panel is scheduled to complete its review and provide the Minister with its Environmental Assessment Review Report and recommendations by January 20th, 2017.

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