VANCOUVER — Today’s overhaul by the federal government of Canada’s environmental assessment laws shows promise in some areas and raises serious concerns in others.
“This is Canada’s best opportunity in a decade to modernize environmental laws and bring evidence-based science back into the process,” said David Suzuki Foundation Western Canada director general Jay Ritchlin. “Although it’s premature to assess the impacts of the proposed bill, some changes appear to hit the mark while others fall disappointingly short.”
On the plus side, the omnibus Bill C-69 introduces provisions to deal with regional and cumulative effects rather than looking at individual projects in isolation. As well, the creation of a public registry will make it possible to track potentially damaging projects in Canada.
“For too long, Canadians were kept in the dark about what development projects were happening in their communities, and this promises to change that,” Ritchlin said. “Defining a more formal role for Indigenous Peoples is also a positive step, yet it remains to be seen whether they support the provisions and whether the changes conform with the federal commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
Other areas raise concerns. “This is a missed opportunity to fix some of the most egregious problems introduced in 2012, which created disconnection among environmental laws,” Ritchlin said. “We’ve been asking that the mechanism that tied Canada’s environmental protection laws together be returned. This opportunity wasn’t taken and we could have serious gaps in Canada’s environmental protection.”
Questions remain on the energy front. “I’m troubled by the possibility that petroleum boards could be involved in environmental assessments of large development projects,” Ritchlin said.
Of equal concern are comments by Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna that the Kinder Morgan pipeline project would have been approved under these proposed changes. “This pipeline’s approval failed to include climate change considerations, impacts on endangered orcas or adequate consultation with affected First Nations. If this new law still allows projects like this to be approved despite these shortcomings, then it will be a failure,” Ritchlin said.
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