4 Myths About Changes to Canada's Environmental Laws
There's been a whole lot of talk these past weeks about the future of
Canada's environmental laws. Are the Prime Minister's proposed changes a
much-needed streamlining of environmental reviews? Or are we witnessing
the gutting and slashing of a generation's worth of environmental
After releasing a budget
that clearly placed resource exports over environmental health, the
government has followed through with legislative changes that severely
weaken the environmental safety net that Canadians have long depended on
for clean air, water and land.
Among other changes, the Conservative government will significantly
reduce federal environmental
oversight of natural resource development projects, impose limits on who
can participate in environmental reviews and reduce the time permitted
to review projects.
To defend these moves, the government has offered a variety
of arguments that are, well, highly arguable. Here are just some of the myths
circulating out there, along with a reality check.
Myth 1: "Streamlining"
environmental reviews for major
projects will increase certainty for project
On the contrary, denying adequate public review of development projects
and abandoning the federal government's role in reviewing such projects
are a recipe for conflict, litigation, and a patchwork of
conflicting provincial measures that will result in uncertainty
and unpredictable delay for projects.
Already, First Nations leaders
have reacted to plans to cut short the approvals process for the Northern Gateway Project with threats of legal action, and law experts predict
a raft of law suits that will tie up the project for years.
Pushing projects through, and limiting public involvement, will only serve to erode the public's confidence in the
project's safety, a lack of support few investors would welcome.
Myth 2: Environmental
reviews can be handed over to the
provinces because “one project, one
review” is all Canada needs.
It is the federal government's number one job to protect the safety and security of its citizenry. Canadians
depend on the federal government to safeguard our families and
nature from pollution, toxic contamination and other direct threats to our physical well-being.
or limiting federal environmental reviews means eliminating
the environmental safety net for things like fish and fish
habitat, which are the federal government’s legal
environmental assessment processes are inconsistent
from each other and often weak, lacking key safeguards
of the federal process.
Myth 3: Environmental review of projects
hurts the economy, so strict time limits
are needed to push projects through more
taught us that rushed and superficial public review of
megaprojects risks leaving taxpayers on the hook for multibillion dollar
clean-up costs when things go wrong later. Think Giant Mine in Yellowknife
. Or the pulp and paper mills of Dryden, Ontario. Or radiation clean up in Port Hope
The key purpose of
environmental assessment is to “look before you leap” – that is, to carefully
consider the long-term environmental consequences of a development proposal
before deciding whether or how to proceed. While other federal laws are more
reactive and not engaged until after damage to the environment has already
occurred, environmental assessment is one of the few institutionalized
processes Canada has developed to prevent environmentally harmful activities or
projects from being approved in the first place.
By preventing problems before they start, environmental assessment is good for the economy. Making sure a project is
environmentally sound before it begins is alot easier -- and cheaper –
than after the fact. Just ask BP whether
preventing an oil spill is a better option than having to clean one up.
a measured and thoughtful approach that ensures that
we approve projects that make the greatest contribution
to a sustainable economy and put them in the right place,
not a ‘rubber stamp’ for development at all costs.Myth 4: Proposed legal changes "modernize" the regulatory process.
Canada’s environmental laws, if done as planned, turns back
the clock several decades. Canadians
have spent 30 years working to build up our environmental
laws so that the disasters of our past – the Sydney Tar
Ponds, the death of Lake Erie, the Bennett Dam flooding –
are not repeated. We are still paying for these disasters
with compromised health and with taxpayer dollars.