Ottawa’s revised environmental rules won’t reduce permitting stage, lawyers say 

The Eagle’s Nest project in Ontario’s Ring of Fire. Climate activists say it could release gases from area marshes. Credit: Wyloo Metals

The federal government’s proposed changes to environmental rules for resource projects could limit Ottawa’s oversight, but probably won’t shorten approval times, according to a law firm’s analysis.   

The proposed amendments address concerns raised by Canada’s Supreme Court in October. It ruled the Impact Assessment Act is unconstitutional because the federal government was overstepping its jurisdiction into provincial areas. The Liberal government’s budget speech in mid-April said the suggested modifications were coming.  

The proposals likely will be adjusted through a public consultation process, lawyers for Toronto-headquartered law firm Osler said in a report this month. The essential procedures, timelines and authorities in the act would remain unchanged by the amendments, said the firm, which represented the Alberta Business Council as an intervenor in the Supreme Court case. The proposals do contain provisions for retroactive application to projects already being assessed under the act, it said.  

“It is uncertain whether they will result in meaningful changes to how the current act has been administered,” the firm said. “The amendments also fail to address the criticisms from project proponents that the current act deters investment in new projects because its applicability, timelines and decision-making powers are uncertain and unpredictable.”  

Veteran entrepreneur Pierre Lasonde said there should be only one environmental assessment under provincial jurisdiction with defined objectives and a set timetable. 

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