Canada’s environmental assessment process needs reform says report

“We want to build a new system that serves the public’s interest and provides certainty to businesses,” said Catherine McKenna, Canada’s environment and climate change minister, (pictured above in Calgary in March 2017) of the expert panel report on the environmental assessment process released Wednesday. (Todd Korol/The Canadian Press)
MONTREAL  — Canada released its long-awaited expert environmental assessment report on Wednesday and  has opened the work up to public comment.

Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister, Catherine McKenna, made the announcement at the start of the Arctic-Nordic forum held during the International Association for Impact Assessment conference being held in Montreal this week.

“We want to build a new system that serves the public’s interest and provides certainty to businesses, ” McKenna said in a statement.

“At the end of the day, we want to get good projects built. We know they create jobs that support communities across our country.”

Johanne Gelinas (pictured above in 2006) chaired the federally appointed expert panel that produced today’s report. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The expert panel was established in August 2016 by the federal government to examine what was working and what wasn’t when it came to approving major projects, something the government said was necessary to “restore confidence in Canada’s environmental and regulatory processes.”

The assessment process has received increased criticism in recent years from all segments of Canadian society including business who said evaluations took too long, to indigenous Canadians, who said they were often sidelined during reviews and only consulted late into the process.

The panel’s experts, Johanne Gélinas, Doug Horswill, Rod Northey, and Renée Pelletier, went to 21 cities, received over 500 online submissions, and met 1,000 participants at its engagement sessions.

Though the regulatory process is different in Canada’s three northern territories than in southern Canada, concerns are similar across the country.

Report recommendations released today range from the importance of having environmental assessements include factors beyond just the `bio-physical environment’ to a series of recommendations on better  working with aboriginal communities, including the incorporation of indigenous knowledge at all stages of impact assessments.

“The Panel’s review was thorough and productive, and the quality of submissions we received from a broad range of Canadians, including the public, Indigenous groups, environmental groups, Industry and academics was inspiring,” Johanne Gélinas, chair of the expert panel, said in a statement.

The public can comment on the report through the website until May 5.

The government will then review the report and public comments and decide what policy or regulatory changes may be needed.

Write to Eilis Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Arctic offshore drilling too dangerous: Trudeau, Radio Canada International

Finland: Finland carbon neutral by 2045 says country’s environment minister, Yle News

Norway: Norway proposes massive opening of Arctic shelf to oil drilling, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia:  Rare birds around Russian Arctic oil field not a problem, company financed study says, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Swedish government unveils new climate law, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska is trying to slice some land out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska Dispatch News



Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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