My name is Brent Parker. I am the acting vice-president of external relations and strategic policy at the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.
I appreciate the opportunity to come to speak with you today about the agency and the Impact Assessment Act itself.
The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada is a federal body accountable to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. The agency is responsible for conducting impact assessments under the Impact Assessment Act, and is headquartered here in Ottawa, with six regional offices. The agency has almost 500 full-time equivalent employees with an annual budget of $74 million for this past fiscal year.
Impact assessment is an internationally recognized planning tool designed to understand and mitigate the negative effects of projects while enhancing their benefits.
Federal impact assessment has a long history in Canada, first established in 1974, and our predecessor, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, was established in 1994 under the original Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and continued under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act of 2012.
This past August, 2019, the Impact Assessment Act came into force, repealing the 2012 law and creating the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.
Federal impact assessment applies to major projects. These are designated in a regulation, colloquially referred to as the “Project List”. It focuses on those projects with the greatest potential for adverse effects in areas of federal jurisdiction related to the environment. There are currently over 70 major projects undergoing federal assessment, ranging from oil and gas and mining projects, to highways, ports and infrastructure, and renewable energy projects.
The Agency's work under the Impact Assessment Act is guided by a number of principles. They include fostering sustainability, predictability and timeliness, co-operation, reconciliation and partnership with indigenous peoples, meaningful public engagement, and integrating scientific information and indigenous knowledge.
I'd like to touch on each of these themes today and highlight some of the early successes in the implementation of the Impact Assessment Act.
First, the Impact Assessment Act broadens project reviews, from environmental assessments to impact assessments, with a focus on sustainability.
This means that federal assessments now consider a broader range of potential impacts to understand how a proposed project could affect not just the environment but also social and health aspects, indigenous peoples, jobs and the economy over the long-term.
The act also recognizes that individual project reviews are not best placed to address complex policy issues, and it provides new tools for the consideration of these. Regional and strategic assessments are the tools that provide avenues to understand the “big picture” view.
With this in mind, the agency has been working closely with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, as well as with the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador since last spring on a regional assessment of offshore oil and gas exploratory drilling east of Newfoundland and Labrador, which will enhance environmental understanding and protections while also streamlining specific project review.
The Impact Assessment Act creates an efficient and predictable review process, giving companies the clarity and predictability they need.
Project reviews have legislated timelines and they are rigorously managed.
The Impact Assessment Act introduces a new planning phase. Planning brings greater predictability to the process by establishing requirements and expectations at the outset that will inform and guide a project assessment. It lays out how we will engage with indigenous groups and stakeholders, and co-operate with other jurisdictions. It also enables public participation to identify potential issues early and determine how they may be addressed. Most importantly, for project proponents, it establishes what will be examined during the impact assessment and any information and studies that will be required.
Just this week, the agency marked a milestone, posting notices of commencement for the first projects that have completed the planning phase under the Impact Assessment Act, those being the Webequie Supply Road and the Marten Falls community access road, both in northern Ontario.
Cooperation is another guiding principle to move towards more timely project assessments for companies and a one-window approach for stakeholders, to avoid duplicating efforts.
Federally, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada leads all major project reviews and coordinates consultation with indigenous peoples. Assessments continue to rely heavily on the expertise and experience of federal departments, as well as life-cycle regulators, including the Canada Energy Regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, and the Atlantic offshore petroleum boards. For example, the agency has closely worked with federal departments and the Canada Energy Regulator over the recent while to work through the planning phase for the Gazoduq project, a proposed natural gas pipeline located in eastern Ontario and Quebec, including on the development of the draft tailored impact statement guidelines, which are currently out for public consultation.
The act also mandates the agency to co-operate with other jurisdictions on impact assessments, and provides enhanced tools to avoid duplication and align processes. There are collaboration agreements in place for almost all current assessment that are underway.
One particularly fruitful partnership is that with British Columbia, driven by a co-operation agreement that was put in place in August 2019, between the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the British Columbia Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. This agreement has seen us realize the first substitution process under the Impact Assessment Act.
Reconciliation with indigenous peoples is a key consideration woven into the design of the assessment process.
The Impact Assessment Act provides enhanced opportunities for partnerships with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, based on recognition of indigenous rights from the start—this includes early engagement and opportunities to participate at every stage.
The law also requires that decision-making take into consideration indigenous culture and impacts on Indigenous peoples and rights. The aim is to secure consent through processes based on mutual respect and dialogue.
As I mentioned, public participation is a key element of the Impact Assessment Act. This process under the act is open and transparent, with greater opportunities for communities to have their voices heard. A new online platform has been created for sharing information and increasing public access. Throughout the assessment process, the public has meaningful opportunities to participate. There are many ways that indigenous groups, stakeholders and the general public are able to provide feedback, from town halls to workshops to online platforms; and all of those opportunities are tailored to the circumstances of a particular project.
Transparent, evidence-based decision-making is a fundamental part of the review process. Impact assessments consider scientific evidence which is rigorously tested by federal scientists and made available in an easy-to-understand format for the public. It is mandatory to consider and protect indigenous knowledge, where available, alongside science and other evidence.
Impact assessments are carried out by the agency or by a review panel under the act to help inform the public interest decision, which is made by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, or cabinet.
Reasons for decisions are now made publicly available so that Canadians can better understand the rationale for decision-making.
In conclusion, the agency's working to put into practice the principles articulated in the Impact Assessment Act, and to reflect values that are important to Canadians: early, inclusive and meaningful public engagement; a predictable and co-operative process; nation-to-nation, Inuit-to-Crown and government-to-government partnerships with indigenous peoples; timely decisions based on the best available science and indigenous knowledge; and sustainability for present and future generations.
Thank you very much. This concludes my opening remarks. We would welcome questions from the committee.
Hi. I'm Dan Mazier from Manitoba.
I want to talk about flood protection. Of course, it's Manitoba, right? You folks are familiar with the Lake Saint Martin project. If I'm understanding the conversation correctly, the act was changed in 2019. The conversation that's going on right now in Manitoba is about the goalposts that are changing. We can't built flood protection in Manitoba right now with the new act in place. Everybody is running out of patience because we're flooding out communities.
How are the new rules impacting positively on flood protection? Is anything being taken into account differently now when it comes to flood protection types of strategies? I know there are communities now that are being assessed differently. There are things that have changed drastically in that whole assessment process.
As well, are these projects weighted? When you determine the criteria for each project, and the criteria of, say, species at risk versus carbon emissions, are they given certain points? How do you determine what the priority is of that project or of the department?
My last question is regarding old process versus new process. Just for clarity, the old process allowed the province and the federal government to determine who was going to be on the panel. In the new process, the federal minister decides who's going to be on that panel.
Those are my three questions.