The fix is on: federal government launches review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act after law gutted in 2012
The worst year in the history of Canadian environmental protection was 2012. That year, the federal government gutted every major environmental law. The Fisheries Act no longer protected most fish or fish habitat. The Navigable Waters Protection Act no longer protected “water.” And the process by which major projects are reviewed was slashed.
Advocates for reform said that the changes would “cut red tape” and make it easier for people to innovate and prosper in Canada. In fact, the sweeping changes thrust the regulatory process into chaos. The Montreal sewage dump is just one example of how the illogical web of new rules led to confusion, public outrage, and more pollution.
Today, Waterkeeper Mark Mattson sent a short submission to the Government of Canada endorsing the launch of new process to review environmental decision-making.
All the major law rollbacks will eventually be studied, beginning today with Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Click here for information on how you can participate.
The first step in the environmental assessment review process is to define the “terms of reference” for the expert panel that will be reviewing the Act.
Terms of reference are basically the instructions given to the panel that says what they can and cannot look at. They’re the lines on the soccer pitch that define what is “in bounds” and what is “out of bounds.”
If the panel’s focus is too narrow, the field is too small and no one gets anywhere. If the panel’s focus is too broad, the field is too big and everyone runs around in different directions. We’re looking for that sweet spot where the most important issues are all addressed but the focus is narrow enough to strengthen one of our most important federal laws.
In this case, the government said the “important” issues are federal oversight, cooperation with provinces, science & evidence-based decision-making, serving the public interest, promotion of modern technology and innovation, and participation of Indigenous groups.
We endorsed submissions by Canadian Environmental Law Association and West Coast Environmental Law, who pointed out a few key areas where the scope should be improved.
As Mark noted in the letter, we’re especially concerned about the accountability of environmental assessment decision-makers to the courts, the practices of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission when it comes to nuclear project reviews, and the delegation federal responsibilities to provinces.
It sounds academic, until you’re smack in the middle of a review of a project in your home community. Nearly every issue, complaint, or concern we face comes back to “fairness.” When a process isn’t fair, decisions are poor. The environment suffers. Communities suffer. It’s harder to prosper.
People who live here say that they love water and nature more than any other nation on earth. Yet Canada ranks last amongst wealthy countries when it comes to actual environmental protection activities.
The only way to reverse this decline is to fix our environmental assessment process. We’re looking forward to being part of the review later this year.