Politics

Liberals kick off widespread review of how natural resource development projects are approved

The Liberal government has kicked off a government-wide review of the processes and methods it uses to decide which natural resource development projects will be approved or rejected.

2 expert panels and 2 parliamentary committees to review laws and assessment processes

Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc announces a widespread review of the way natural resource development projects are granted permission to proceed in Canada. (CBC)

The Trudeau government has begun a review of the processes and methods it uses to decide which natural resource development projects will be approved or rejected.

The Liberals said six ministries are all in one way or another essential to delivering a process for approving projects that are based on science, fact and social responsibility.

The ministries that will be part of the review include:

  • Fisheries and Oceans. 
  • Environment and Climate Change.
  • Transport. 
  • Science and Innovation. 
  • Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
  • Natural Resources.

"Developed wisely, major resource projects can power economies, help solve environmental challenges, support communities and create jobs," said Dominic LeBlanc, fisheries minister. "Without proper oversight however, they can lead to environmental degradation, stranded assets, broken trust and lost opportunities."

LeBlanc said his government is launching the review process to fulfil a campaign promise to "review the regressive changes made by the previous government, and restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards in the Fisheries Act."

The minister was referring, in part, to a 2012 decision made by the Conservatives to replace one of Canada's oldest laws, the 1882 Navigable Waters Protection Act, that said any water body deep enough to float a canoe was under federal protection, with a new law.

The new Navigation Protection Act stripped down the number of water bodies under federal protection to three oceans, 97 lakes and 62 rivers.

As a part of the review process, both the Navigation Protection Act and the Fisheries Act will be reviewed by parliamentary committees in the fall. Those committees will then compile a report and submit it to their ministers in January 2017.

"They want us to ensure that economically beneficial, environmentally responsible projects are advanced and that projects with minimal benefits and high risks are not," LeBlanc said.

Expert panels 

The Liberal government will also strike two expert panels to look into how the National Energy Board approves projects and how the federal environmental assessment process does the same.

"The panel is expected to report back with recommendations by the end of January and the report will be made public," said Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna.

The government has launched a website to seek input from the public about the terms of reference that should be used to guide the work of each panel. Comments will be accepted at canada.ca/environmentalreviews until July 20.

In September, both expert panels will travel the country and "consult broadly with Indigenous peoples and the public," according to the website. The panel reviewing the National Energy Board will submit its findings in early 2017.

McKenna said that some of the expected changes will require new laws, while others will only require changes to regulations — all decisions will be made when the reviews of all four areas are back in the hands of government.

Conservative Environment and Climate Change critic says the process for approving natural resource development projects in Canada is among the most robust in the world and no changes are needed to the process (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"This is a good day for nature in Canada, I think this is the most significant environmental law reform initiative in at least a generation," said Stephen Hazell, director of conservation and general counsel with Nature Canada.

"The government has, I think done, an exceptional job of trying to pull all this together under a single envelope of consultations."

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was critical of the Liberal government's decision to keep existing laws in place while it undertakes consultations on how the new laws and regulations should work.

"There's no reason Parliament cannot restore the pre-Harper legislation, and then move to consultation to further improve the process," May said in a release.

Ed Fast, the Conservative critic on environment and climate change, said the review is a "solution in search of a problem" and that Canada already had "among the strongest regulatory systems in the world."

"Sadly, the Liberal government's approach is governing by endless consultations," Fast said. "You consult, and consult and consult to death but you never actually make the tough decisions that are required to promote the national interest."

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