These are Canada’s priorities when it comes to environmental assessment reviews

The Canadian government announced this week details of a long-awaited review of the environmental rules applied to mining and energy companies planning to start-up a project in the country.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, said it has formed a four-member Expert Panel, which will be in charge of reviewing how federal environmental assessments are done.

“The members of the Expert Panel will bring a broad cross-section of views and experience to this process and I have every faith in their ability to complete this review in a way that represents the views of all Canadians,” she said.

The minister also emphasized the group’s commitment to cooperating with First Nations through an Indigenous Engagement Plan, to guarantee that their concerns and suggestions are taken into account.

A freshly created experts panel has been expressly instructed to engage with First Nations individuals and groups.

One key aspect of the team’s mandate is to tackle how environmental assessments can be used to address potential impacts to established or future Aboriginal and treaty rights.

At the same time, the panel has to make sure that future assessments are based on science, facts, evidence and Indigenous knowledge. For the past decade, activist groups have been complaining about the lack of substantiation of environmental reviews, particularly for major energy projects. Industry, on the other hand, has said that the government asks too much of them, when it comes to demonstrating their mitigation efforts.

“The goal of the review is to ensure that environmental assessment processes are robust,” said Renée Pelletier, one of the members of the committee and managing partner at Olthuis Kleer Townshend, one of Canada’s leading Aboriginal rights law firms.

In order to accommodate everyone’s point of view, the group would establish a Multi-Interest Advisory Committee with First Nations representatives, industry associations, and environmental groups.

Regaining public trust

The mechanisms under which public consultations take place will also be under the panel’s scrutiny. Given that one of its main objectives is to “regain public trust,” the committee has to communicate directly with a variety of interested organizations and individuals to get their input as to how their participation in environmental review processes can be more straightforward.

They will also create a website to advertise their activities and open events, provide updates on their work, and receive written submissions.

“The panel believes that building trust begins with a coordinated, open and transparent process that takes into account all input. To this end, we intend to engage Canadians, including Indigenous people, in a number of ways throughout the review. We look forward to Canadians across the country sharing their expertise and their experiences with us,” Renée Pelletier explained.

The panel is set to begin working next month and it is expected to complete its review and provide its report with recommendations to the Minister by January 31, 2017.

Johanne Gélinas, a former federal commissioner of environment and sustainable development, is leading the panel. Besides Pelletier, the other three members are Doug Horswill, who has served as Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines in B.C. and was Vice President of Environment and Public Affairs at Teck Resources; and Rod Northey, an environmental lawyer and partner of Gowling WLG who also chairs the Greenbelt Foundation.