Bill C-69 was introduced in February by the federal government to overhaul Canada’s environmental assessment laws and energy project review process. This is a rare chance to give Canada world-class environmental laws, but Bill C-69 isn’t exactly passing with flying colours.
Last week, Environmental Defence and our allies from seven other environmental groups released a report card on Bill C-69, the Impact Assessment Act. We gave the bill a C-minus.
Bill C-69 might address the right issues when putting into place an environmental assessment regime that can build a sustainable economy while protecting Canada’s water, air, land and climate. But the bill falls short when measured up against the essential elements of next-generation environmental assessment.
Here are a few key shortcomings that explain why we gave Bill C-69 a mediocre grade:
- Sustainability. The law as proposed would require a consideration of sustainability, helping Canada choose the best options for long-term social, economic and ecological well-being. But it leaves too much discretion to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the federal cabinet, risking that sustainability takes a back seat to other considerations. The bill fails to ensure an environmental assessment is triggered for all projects under federal jurisdiction and leaves the door open to numerous environmentally-destructive projects being approved.
- Climate change. Bill C-69 requires consideration of how an energy or industrial project would help or hinder Canada’s climate targets, but does not specify how the government will assess a project’s carbon pollution and climate impacts, and how this would factor into a decision to approve or reject a project.
- Public Participation. The bill makes significant improvements to ensure Canadians can be involved in the environmental assessment process, but does not prescribe how that involvement occurs on the ground, does not set a standard to fund public participation, and does not require the government to explain how it considers public input in a final decision on a project.
- Indigenous reconciliation. While the bill acknowledges reconciliation and recognizes some Indigenous jurisdictions, it is silent on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and limits recognition of Indigenous jurisdictions to those acknowledged or created under Canadian law.
- Regional and Strategic Assessments. Bill C-69 does not adequately take into account a strategic and informed view of the long-term needs of people and the environment. The bill sets out a framework for regional assessments (which consider the cumulative impacts of individual industrial or energy projects proposed throughout a particular geographic region) and strategic assessments (which consider the cumulative impacts of projects in terms of government policies). And the legislation was accompanied by a commitment to undertake a strategic assessment for climate change. But Bill C-69 leaves too much discretion for regional and strategic assessments to the Minister, does not specify when they must be undertaken, and fails to outline how they would be applied to individual project assessments.
- Collaboration and Harmonization. While one purpose of Bill C-69 is to promote collaboration, there is no assurance that provinces and territories will need to meet higher federal standards for environmental assessments, and provincial/territorial and Indigenous collaboration on pipeline and nuclear projects is forbidden.
After passing first reading in Parliament, Bill C-69 is now being studied by the Environment and Sustainable Development Committee, where Members of Parliament are hearing from academics, scientists, environmental organizations, First Nations and industry on how to improve the bill.
The federal government has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enact world-class environmental laws for Canada. But we need significant improvements to Bill C-69 to get there. Without key amendments, Bill C-69 will just be a minor facelift for Canada’s weak environmental laws and broken energy project review process.