​13 ways Ottawa’s review panel wants to change the way major projects are assessed

The recommendations are in from the four-person panel tasked with identifying how to restore public trust in Canada’s environmental assessment (EA) process, introduce new, fair processes and get the country’s resources to market.

Since being established last summer the panel says it heard input from more than 1,000 Canadians in its 21-city tour, as well as through 2,673 online and 520 written submissions.

“Views about federal EA across the various interests ranged from support to all-out opposition. It was clear, however, that current assessment processes under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act…are incapable of resolving these disparate points of view,” the panel says in its report, issued on April 5.

“In general, we did not hear strident opposition to the development of projects, although in a few cases there were those who held that certain projects should not have gone ahead. Rather, we heard that, when communities, proponents and governments work together with mutual respect and understanding in a process that is open, inclusive and trusted, assessment processes can deliver better projects, bring society more benefits than costs and contribute positively to Canada’s sustainable future.

“We believe that Canadians deserve better and that it is entirely possible to deliver better…We believe that public trust can lead to more efficient and timely reviews. It may also support getting resources to market.”

Here are some highlights of what the panel is recommending:

  1. Assessment processes must move beyond the bio-physical environment to encompass all impacts likely to result from a project, both positive and negative. Therefore, what is now “environmental assessment” should become “impact assessment” (IA).
  2. Federal interest should be central in determining whether an IA should be required for a given project, region, plan or policy.
  3. The principle of “one project, one assessment” is central to implementing IA around the five pillars of sustainability.
  4. IA legislation should require that all phases of IA use and integrate the best available scientific information and methods, including Indigenous knowledge and community knowledge through a framework determined in collaboration with Indigenous groups, knowledge holders and scientists.
  5. IA should provide early and ongoing public participation opportunities that are open to all. Results of public participation should have the potential to impact decisions.
  6. The participant funding program for IA should be commensurate with the costs associated with meaningful participation in all phases of IA, including monitoring and follow-up.
  7. Indigenous peoples should be included in decision-making at all stages of IA, in accordance with their own laws and customs.
  8. A single authority should have the mandate to conduct and decide upon IAs on behalf of the federal government, empowered to undertake a full range of facilitation and dispute-resolution processes.
  9. IA legislation should ensure sustainability outcomes are met through mandatory monitoring and follow-up programs with minimum standard requirements common to all project IAs.
  10. Indigenous groups and local communities should be involved in the independent oversight of monitoring and follow-up programs established by the IA authority.
  11. IA legislation should provide a broad range of tools to enforce IA conditions and suspend or revoke approvals.
  12. The IA authority should be required to develop an estimate of the cost and timeline for each phase of the assessment and report regularly on the success in meeting these estimates.
  13. IA should play a critical role in supporting Canada’s efforts to address climate change.

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