The Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy’s mandate letter commits him to “revitalize the environmental assessment process” in British Columbia to “ensure the legal rights of First Nations are respected, and the public's expectation of a strong, transparent process is met.” This presents an opportunity to replace BC’s current weak environmental assessment regime with progressive new assessment legislation that can maintain public confidence and safeguard environmental, social, cultural, health and economic values.
Extensive thought has gone into proposals for a truly revitalized environmental assessment regime at both the BC and federal levels. Synthesizing from that existing work, West Coast Environmental Law, the Environmental Law Centre, Ecojustice and the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation have collaborated to jointly put forward this paper, which presents a high-level vision of a progressive new approach to environmental assessment in BC as well as key changes needed to make it happen.
Each of the following key components of provincial assessment reform is addressed in a separate section in this paper, together forming a blueprint for next-generation assessment in BC:
- BC’s assessment regime establishes and meets substantive sustainability objectives;
- BC’s assessment regime ensures climate targets are achieved;
- First Nations’ jurisdictional authority is recognized and reflected in assessment process and outcomes;
- Jurisdictions collaborate in discharging their assessment responsibilities to the highest standard;
- Robust and informed public participation is established as a key component of assessment;
- Higher-level assessment and planning is tiered with project assessment to address strategic issues and manage cumulative effects;
- An independent body provides oversight and guidance to ensure BC’s assessment regime meets its purposes;
- All projects and activities with implications for sustainability are assessed and tracked;
- New requirements strengthen the information base and ensure evidence-based decision-making;
- New decision-making requirements promote transparent, accountable assessment decisions;
- A right to appeal decisions provides a safety mechanism to ensure accountability;
- Strengthened monitoring and enforcement ensures sustainability after the assessment; and
- Appropriate funding enables the new assessment structure and processes to succeed.