Last August, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change established a four-person expert panel to review Canadian environmental assessment processes. After almost a year of engaging Indigenous Peoples, individual Canadians, environmental groups, EA practitioners, consultants, academics, industry representatives, provincial EA offices and federal departments, the report was released today, April 5th, for public comment.
Public Comment on both the Development and Implementation of this report can be found here: http://www.letstalkea.ca/
The report had three main goals:
- Introduce new, fair processes
- Restore public trust in EA (Environmental Assessment)
- Get resources to market
Views about federal EA procedures vary widely, from support to outright opposition. The panel knew the current processes were incapable of resolving these disparate points of view. During the outreach period, however, instead of finding opposition to the development of projects, they learned that a lack of public and community consultation was at the root of opposition, and providing more opportunities for input early on led to better outcomes for everyone involved.
“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.”
The expert panel was thorough in their engagement of this public. They visited 21 cities, more than 1000 people came to talk to them, they collected more than 5000 recommendations from the public about how to improve the assessment process.
In listening to the armchair discussion between the Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Johanne Gélinas, Chair of the Expert Panel (1), it came to light that a lot of the problems were procedural, and could easily be improved. For example, opposition to a project might come about from an indigenous group not because of the substance of the project but because of the poorly organized process necessary required to do an environmental review. In the 300 plus submissions from Indigenous Peoples, it came to light that they would receive boxes and boxes of binders of data all at once, stacks of these, and then be given 30 days to review the material and formulate a response. It was an impossible task, and created needless conflict.
From Johanne Gélinas: “Nobody in this country is against economic development, they just want time to do things properly”
Minister Catherine McKenna later continued on this point “Early public engagement is good for timelines. Major projects power the economy, but we need proper oversight”.
The final report acknowledges that Infrastructure and resource industries will be affected the most by EA changes. The new processes were designed because it became apparent during research that public trust and confidence had to be restored in order for investment in these sectors to go forward and contribute sustainably to Canada’s future.
Diving into the Vision
In section 1, the report outlines the “vision” that the panel will be working toward achieving, a vision that accomplishes the three goals laid out above (implement fair practises, build public trust and get resources to market). The outcome will not be something entirely new, but rather a better compromise between the assessment practises of the ‘90’s and those in use today. The view of the expert panel is that in order to accomplish these goals, the assessment process must go beyond biophysical (environmental) considerations and take into account the larger scope of impacts (both positive and negative) that development projects have to the overall long-term well-being of Canadians. This includes biophysical impacts, impacts regarding the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), economic benefits, as well as social, cultural and health impacts.
Research: From Coast to Coast
One of the findings that was consistent across Canada was that the current processes were incapable of resolving the disparate points of view regarding EA. Each region raised their own concerns, from offshore oil development, fisheries and electrical power in the Atlantic region to the hotbed of discussion in BC around oil and gas pipelines, mining projects, hydro-electrical projects and ports. Across the country there were many cases where Indigenous Peoples felt that their rights and interests had been neglected or ignored, for example the multiple developments in the northeast of British Columbia which had impacted more than 80 per cent of Treaty 8 land without any effective assessment of impacts.
Further reading on the Vision developed by the Expert Panel, including how the group intends to keep the assessment process Transparent, can be found here: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/environment/conservation/assessments/environmental-reviews/environmental-assessment-processes/building-common-ground.html - _Toc008
Meeting the Challenges
Developing processes that will lead to decisions that are considered fair by all parties may be possible through the introduction of a rigorous and robust assessment process.
One of the challenges identified is that this review is happening “in the heat of the moment”. Some of the most controversial projects of a generation are currently under review. In navigating these controversies, maintaining empathy and finding common ground will be critical to success. To better facilitate co-operation and consensus, the current “one-size-fits-all” approach will be broken down to reflect the specific circumstances of each project. To protect against real or perceived bias on the part of the responsible authorities, science, facts and evidence, Indigenous knowledge and community knowledge will be integrated throughout the process.
(1) The armchair discussion took place this morning and has been posted to the Environment and Natural Resources in Canada Facebook page at:
Discussion starts at 7:33.