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Proposed federal environmental law reforms fall short of the mark, need more work

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Proposed changes to Fisheries Act and National Energy Board encouraging, but environmental assessment and Navigation Protection Act reforms fall far short, say environmental lawyers

VANCOUVER, BC, Coast Salish Territories – Lawyers at West Coast Environmental Law Association say the federal government has dropped the ball on some proposed reforms for key environmental laws and processes – but there’s still time to get it right.

The proposed changes were released today in a discussion paper that outlines the government’s priorities following the reviews of Canada’s environmental assessment (EA) regime, the National Energy Board, Fisheries Act and Navigation Protection Act.

“In its discussion paper, the government has fallen short of the next-generation assessment principles agreed to by environmental assessment experts, Indigenous peoples, environmental groups and the general public across the country. The Expert Panel appointed to review Canada’s EA processes heard overwhelming support for a sustainability-based approach that would better ensure that communities and the environment are protected from harm, and that the burdens and benefits of development are distributed more fairly,” said Anna Johnston, Staff Counsel.

“Instead, the government has proposed maintaining the status quo of politicized decisions made behind closed doors, decisions that would allow short-term economic gains to trump human and environmental health.”

While many aspects of the government’s plan fall short of expectations, West Coast lawyers noted several positive proposals in the discussion paper – such as requiring early public and Indigenous engagement, and emphasizing the need for strategic and regional assessments. Also encouraging is the government’s commitment to implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) through collaboration with First Nations.

The discussion paper also includes proposals for legislative and policy changes to enhance protection of fish and fish habitat – including re-introducing the prohibition on the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.

“We are optimistic about some of the proposals for strengthening the Fisheries Act, and hope to see those key legislative changes introduced as soon as possible. The time to act is now,” said Linda Nowlan, Staff Counsel.

The government has announced a 60-day comment period to gather feedback on the discussion paper, which should help inform planning for how the various proposals might be implemented.

“A lot depends on how the government implements its proposals. There is still room in the next 60 days to make necessary improvements to bring the government’s proposals up to speed with leading-edge thinking, and build a next-generation environmental assessment law,” Johnston said.

Now that the discussion paper has been released, West Coast Environmental Law Association is preparing to release a report card grading the government’s proposals against leading-edge recommendations for strengthening Canada’s environmental laws and processes. The report card will be available tomorrow at www.wcel.org.

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For more information, please contact:

Anna Johnston, Staff Counsel | West Coast Environmental Law Association
604-340-2304, anna_johnston@wcel.org

Linda Nowlan, Staff Counsel | West Coast Environmental Law Association
604-684-7378 ext. 217, linda_nowlan@wcel.org