Review of federal environmental legislation

The federal government has created an Expert Panel to review its environmental assessment processes.  Go here for more information.

David McNicoll attended a workshop on November 8, 2016.

On December 22, the Greenspace Alliance made a submission to the Panel.  It argued that, if an environmental assessment amounts to assembling short-term data assembled to support a proponent’s proposal then this is “little more than a land delivery system, unmoored from the larger environmental realities in which the project exists.”  True strategic environmental assessment “needs to be rooted in ongoing time series data that track the complex flow of appropriate ecological goods and services on which the sustainability of human communities depends and which make possible the assessment of the potential disruption of these flows brought about by the proponent’s project.”  Any individual EA “should have as its first purpose the protection of the environment, as stipulated in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, not primarily seek to attenuate negative impacts.


April 18, 2017

The federal Expert Panel issued a report, “Building Common Ground: A new vision for Impact Assessment in Canada“.  The Panel invites your comments – deadline is May 5, 2017.  They want your comments under three headings: Developing the Vision, Implementing the Vision and Additional Comments.  All comments received to date are accessible here: .

Here is what West Coast Environment Law thinks about the Expert Panel’s report:

WCEL offers qualified support.

All submissions received in the earlier round are here:

There is also a Multi-interest Advisory Committee “made up of Indigenous organizations, industry associations and environmental groups”; its advice is here:

Finally, there is an annotated compendium of the comments received, at  Filter for “greenspace” and you see what they took away from our submission.


May 3, 2017

The Greenspace Alliance today responded to the Expert Panel’s Building Common Ground report.  The comment is submitted to but addressed to Minister McKenna, making the point that action starts here. In addition to supporting suggestions made by WCEL, the comment reiterates that absence of data remains a critical issue.


June 28, 2017

The government today released a discussion paper, responding to the Expert Panel’s report with changes it is considering.  It outlines “a proposed new approach to environmental assessments and regulatory reviews with a potential path for good projects to proceed in partnership with Indigenous peoples and effective, science-based, enforceable conditions, with clear timelines.”

To submit or upload comments, go here: Deadline is August 28.

WCEL’s initial take:

Despite “several positive proposals,” “… the government has fallen short of the next-generation assessment principles agreed to by environmental assessment experts, Indigenous peoples, environmental groups and the general public across the country.” … “Instead, the government has proposed maintaining the status quo of politicized decisions made behind closed doors, decisions that would allow short-term economic gains to trump human and environmental health.”

A few days later, WCEL issued an 8-page report card.  It gives the proposals for environmental assessment reform a C- (average of grading across “12 pillars of next-generation EA”).  Proposals for other legislative reforms are also graded.

The Green Party of Canada has serious reservations about:

“- The government’s rejection of the National Energy Board (NEB) expert panel’s recommendations, which called for a complete overhaul of the NEB. It will remain in Calgary under its current composition despite the sound advice of the costly panel to seriously reform it and move it to Ottawa.   

– The government’s rejection of the Environmental Assessment (EA) expert panel’s recommendation to convert the Environmental Assessment Agency into a quasi-judicial board, with the sole authority for conducting EA. The government now proposes that Harper’s ‎C-38 regime of energy projects going to the NEB, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and offshore boards will largely remain in place.

– The government’s decision to maintain Harper’s destruction of the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA), instead relying on jurisdictions to apply on a case-by-case basis to restore previously-held protections to waterways. Rather than restoring the NWPA to its previous stature, 99% of Canadian lakes, rivers and streams will remain unprotected from industrial projects.”

World Wildlife Fund-Canada’s take: The good, the bad and the ugly of the review

The good
We are pleased with restored habitat protections under the Fisheries Act. Many of WWF-Canada’s suggestions are apparent in proposed changes to the act and we’re happy that the government heard and responded to our concerns.
The bad
The review of several pieces of environmental legislation at once offers the opportunity to align decision-making around core outcomes, including carbon reductions in Canada’s climate plan. The discussion paper fails to make these vital connections, leaving cross-referencing requirements out of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act as well as the decisions of the National Energy Board.
The ugly
The Navigable Waters Protection Act — overwritten in 2012 by the Navigation Protection Act — was an incredible piece of environmental legislation with a focus on protection in tandem with navigation. The proposed changes do not suggest that the protections lost in 2012 will be restored. Left out is consideration of environmental impacts when a proposal might impede navigation.

Media coverage

Mike De Souza, National Observer, Trudeau Liberals propose sweeping reforms to Harper-era environmental laws, June 29, 2017


August 28, 2017

The Greenspace Alliance today submitted a comment on the Discussion paper.  It praises the reinstatement of fish habitat protection, expresses disappointment that the Expert Panel’s recommendation for a tribunal was rejected, and protests the failure to restore the protection of navigable waters as per the former Navigable Waters Protection Act.


Recommendations from Evidence for Democracy, “Strong Foundations” [August 28]: “Recap and recommendations from scientists regarding the federal environmental and regulatory reviews identifies 8 priorities and 7 gaps that the government must address to ensure that environmental assessment has a solid foundation of science.”