Environmental assessment rules for resource-based projects will be 'fair': Jim Carr

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr says he will announce later today rules for a "fair" environmental assessment process that will restore the confidence of Canadians in pipelines and other energy projects.

National Energy Board says it will 'faithfully' implement any changes to its mandate

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is announcing today new rules to review national pipelines and other energy projects. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr says he will announce later today rules for a "fair" environmental assessment process that will restore the confidence of Canadians in pipelines and other energy projects.

"If major energy projects have the confidence of Canadians … it'll be good news for the Canadian economy," Carr said on his way into his party's weekly caucus meeting Wednesday.

"People want to know that the process is up and running and fair."

Carr said the government drafted new rules following a series of public consultation meetings across the country.

"We've had roundtables in Winnipeg and in Halifax with industry leaders, environmental groups, indigenous leaders, community leaders, union leaders, so the consultation has been wide and broad and it will deepen over time." 

The Liberals promised during the election campaign to review the current process for approving resource-based projects and to bring in new rules that would "restore robust oversight" following changes made by the Conservative government.

Previous changes to the Fisheries Act. along with the elimination of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, "weakened environmental protections," the Liberals said in their campaign platform.

Opposition MP Gérard Deltell told reporters Wednesday morning the Conservatives didn't think new rules were needed, adding that the party would have more to say once the details are announced.

National Energy Board Chair Peter Watson says that he will "implement faithfully the changes that the government makes" to the NEBs mandate. 1:16

NEB to 'faithfully' implement changes

The government's announcement comes on the heels of a new audit report by Canada's environment watchdog that found the National Energy Board failed to follow through and adequately track the compliance of pipeline companies with the conditions set for their projects.

Part of the Liberals' campaign pledge to change the way environmental assessments are conducted also included "modernizing" the National Energy Board.

In a luncheon speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade on Wednesday, NEB chair Peter Watson said the regulator would implement any changes the government makes to its mandate.

"We will implement faithfully the changes that the government makes because our job is not to create a new mandate, our job is to properly execute our mandate."

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair says that the Liberals promise to change the environmental approval process should apply to all proposals, not just new ones proposed after the changes are announced. 2:25

Before the announcement, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said "a little bit of a patchwork on top of the existing system" is not what the Liberals promised during the election campaign.

"You can't build solidly on a defective foundation," he said Wednesday morning. "You have to start over again."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday the government will require companies to "take into account all greenhouse gas emissions, including those upstream."

Trudeau said the federal government's job is not to act as "a cheerleader" for various energy projects, but rather to look out for Canada's best interests.

His comments followed a meeting with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre on a broad range of subjects, including the proposed Energy East pipeline that would carry oilsands crude from Alberta through to Quebec and New Brunswick, where it would be shipped abroad.

Coderre and other mayors in the surrounding region have come out against the proposed Energy East pipeline, citing environmental and economic concerns.

Carr will be accompanied by Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, who will be hosting a meeting of the provincial and territorial environment ministers in Ottawa on Thursday.

She will also meet with indigenous leaders ahead of a first ministers meeting in early March.

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