Questions on the Environmental and Regulatory Reviews Discussion Paper

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise this evening in adjournment proceedings to address a question I asked on April 5. I am extremely pleased that this question is still on the Order Paper because the matter has never been more timely. Since Bill C-38, Canada has been labouring under a broken environmental assessment process.


The day I rose to ask the question was the day the landmark report from the expert panel, convened by the hon. Minister of Environment and Climate Change, was reported back. My question for the Prime Minister at that time said that the expert panel, “makes a bold recommendation: get rid of the NEB’s Environmental Assessment Agency, have a single authority, give it quasi-judicial powers”. I then asked the Prime Minister when we could see this recommendation legislated. Unfortunately, that question was asked in April, and April, May and June passed without an answer to when we would see this legislated.

To my horror, right after the House rose for the summer, a discussion paper was put forward by the federal government that combined the four different tracks of consultation that had been going on: the expert panel on environmental assessments, the one I just mentioned; the expert panel on the National Energy Board; a statutory process under the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans looking at fixing the Fisheries Act; and the transport committee looking at the Navigable Waters Protection Act. This cluster of acts had been wrecked under the two omnibus budget bills of 2012, Bill C-38 in the spring and Bill C-45 in the fall.

The discussion paper put forward by the government, which was a mere 23 pages, made a hash of all of the recommendations and substantive efforts to improve those acts. Let me refer to what was discussed on environmental assessment. While the expert panel said that sustainability must be central to impact assessments, the word “sustainability” did not appear once in the discussion paper, suggesting how the Liberals plan to legislate to fulfill their campaign promises.

While the expert panel stated that the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission should not do environmental reviews, that there had been a lack of public trust in their work, and that there should be a single agency with quasi-judicial powers, in the discussion document we find that for energy, nuclear projects, and offshore oil and gas there will be joint assessments. I am horrified that the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission will still be engaged, and worse, the offshore petroleum boards will now get a new mandate to participate in environmental assessment, for which they are completely unprepared and incompetent.

The expert panel also said we must ensure that there be federal jurisdictional triggers whenever a project was on federal land and involved federal money or where the federal government was a proponent; in other words, those things that were originally found back in the guideline orders in the 1970s. The first federal environmental assessment was in a guideline order put forward by cabinet. It was then replaced with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, brought forward under the Mulroney government and brought into law under Chrétien. This scheme of laws was substantively and substantially amended over the years to further improve the process, to avoid duplicative processes, to have joint processes, to ensure that there was one project, one review, and so on. All of that was trashed by Bill C-38 in 2012.

To my horror now, as I stand before this House, if the discussion document is what is legislated, the chief recommendations of the expert panel will be trashed, ignored, and we will not see the restoration of environmental assessment as it existed in 2006.

Terry Duguid – Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the question by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, a person I have enormous respect for, regarding the review of environmental assessment processes.

In 2015, Canadians sent a clear message that they had lost trust in our country’s environmental assessment processes, which had been undermined by the significant changes made by the Harper government in 2012.

We pledged that if elected, a Liberal government would work to earn back the trust by reforming and modernizing Canada’s environmental assessment system. Getting it right is crucial to both our environmental sustainability and our economic prosperity.

That is what our government is doing. As a first step to restore that trust, in January 2016, the Minister of Natural Resources and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced an interim approach and principles that took immediate effect for all major resource projects under review.

These principles affirmed our government’s commitment to assess direct upstream greenhouse gas emissions, to seek out and consider the views of the public and affected communities, to affirm that no current project would return to the starting line, to base decisions on science, traditional knowledge, and other relevant evidence to meaningfully consult indigenous peoples and, where appropriate, accommodate the impact on their rights.

In June of last year, our government took another step to deliver on its commitment to restore confidence in Canada’s environmental and regulatory processes with the launch of a comprehensive review in order to rebuild trust in environmental assessment processes, modernize the National Energy Board, restore lost protections, and introduce modern safeguards to the Fisheries Act and the Navigation Protection Act.

Now, after more than a year of extensive consultations, our government is putting pen to paper on new legislation, and by early next year, our government will move to enact sweeping changes.

With respect to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, this comes as a result of a series of consultation sessions across the country, a report of an expert panel that the member notes in her question, and over 500 formal written submissions and thousands of online comments from Canadians.

In June, our government summarized what we had heard in a discussion paper entitled “Environmental and Regulatory Reviews”, which can be found online. At the core of the proposed new direction is a shift from environmental assessment to impact assessment. This is an important change. It represents a move toward a more holistic approach that considers cultural, social, health, and economic considerations in addition to environmental impacts.

We have seen what has not worked in the past. It is clear that open and inclusive processes build better outcomes, early engagement can enhance project planning, and a predictable, timely process is key. Indigenous peoples have also been engaged on an ongoing basis since the review was launched, and we will continue to work with indigenous peoples as we consider options for legislative, regulatory, and policy changes.

In closing, Canadians want to know they can trust their environmental processes, and that is exactly what our government is working to deliver.

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women, but when he says to us that the discussion document released in late June “summarized what we had heard”, I think there is something wrong with the Liberals’ hearing. The expert panel said loud and clear said the National Energy Board should have nothing to do with environmental assessments. So too did the expert panel on the National Energy Board.

The environmental assessment expert panel, chaired by our former commissioner for environment and sustainable development, was very clear that sustainability should be central, and was very clear we need to go beyond a project list that limits when environmental reviews take place to look at federal jurisdiction overall. None of these recommendations, broadly supported by tens of thousands of Canadians, made it into the discussion document.

Please, scrap the discussion document, and go back to the expert panel.

Terry Duguid

Mr. Speaker, I would remind the hon. member that our goal is to provide regulatory certainty to business, respect the rights of indigenous peoples, engage communities, and protect our environment for generations to come. We know the environment and the economy must, and do, go together.

We have a responsibility to be careful stewards of our resources, and we have an opportunity to create jobs and opportunities for Canadians. It is about building a system that is in the best interests of Canadians, a system that they can trust, and one where the environment and the economy work hand in hand. We are working toward that end.