Major new energy projects will have to be assessed and either approved or denied within two years under a massive new national assessment bill being introduced in the House of Commons.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who tabled the 341-page Impact Assessment Act, says it will provide clarity and certainty about how the process works, what companies need to do, and why and how decisions are made.
Over $500 billion in major resource projects are planned across Canada in the next decade, McKenna told a news conference as she announced the new bill.
“These projects would mean tens of thousnds of well-paying jobs cross the country, and they would provide an economic boost for communities and our economy as a whole,” McKenna said.
“But we cannot get there without better rules to guide our decisions about resource development.”
McKenna accused her Liberal government’s Conservative predecessors of having “gutted” the environmental assessment process to the point of damaging public trust in the process almost to the point of no repair.
“Approvals were based on politics, rather than robust science,” McKenna said. “There were concerns that changes were putting our fish, our waterways and our communities at risk, and were not taking into account the climate impacts of projects.”
The ensuing pack of public trust resulted in “polarization and paralysis” that persists to this day, she noted.
Once the new law is passed, major projects will continue to be evaluated by a federally appointed review panel, but that would happen in concert with bodies such as the Canadian Energy Regulator — the new name of the current National Energy Board.
Smaller projects that have fewer assessment requirements will need to be decided on within 300 days, instead of the current 450.
All projects will be assessed not just for environmental impacts, but also for impacts on health, the economy, social issues, gender and Indigenous rights.
They will be assessed on the basis of “robust science, evidence and traditional Indigenous knowledge,” McKenna said.
“Indigenous Peoples would be consulted in a … meaningful manner.”
While the last word will still largely reside with the federal cabinet, decisions will be made on whether a project is in the public interest by weighing the positives and negatives of a project against each other.