Canada Releases Discussion Paper on Proposed Changes to Federal Environmental and Regulatory Reviews

In 2016, the Government of Canada began reviews of federal environmental legislation and the National Energy Board (NEB).  At the same time, Parliamentary standing committees undertook reviews of changes to federal fisheries and navigable waters laws.  Reports from those four processes were released earlier in 2017.[1]

The Government of Canada has now released a discussion paper that outlines the legislative changes Canada is contemplating in response to the recommendations in those reports.  This post highlights some key changes in the four areas of potential significance for project proponents.

Guiding Principles

The discussion paper states that the changes under consideration will be guided by five principles:

  • fair, predictable and transparent environmental assessment and regulatory processes that build on what works;
  • enhanced participation of Indigenous peoples to advance Canada’s commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
  • inclusive and meaningful public engagement;
  • timely and evidence-based decision-making; and
  • one project — one assessment, with the scale of assessment aligned with the scale of the project and its potential impacts.

Environmental Assessment

Key changes under consideration in this area include:

  • establishing a single agency for federal environmental assessments, but providing for single, integrated assessments for major energy projects subject to separate regulatory authority;
  • enhanced consideration of cumulative effects of development, through mechanisms like strategic and regional environmental assessments as well as development of national environmental frameworks;
  • maintaining the current project list approach, but providing for processes to review and amend the project list;
  • maintaining legislated assessment timelines, but with flexibility for exceptional circumstances;
  • requiring assessment of impacts on Indigenous peoples, and providing for greater Indigenous participation on assessment boards and review panels;
  • broadening the scope of environmental assessments to consider economic, social and health impacts in addition to environmental impacts;
  • implementing a new early engagement and planning stage that would be led by proponents under direction from Canada;
  • direct engagement between Canada and Indigenous peoples;
  • eliminating the standing test that the NEB has used for decades to determine who can participate in assessments;
  • improving participant funding; and
  • allowing for substitution arrangements with provinces, territories and Indigenous governments.

National Energy Board

The report on modernization of the National Energy Board proposed sweeping changes to the NEB.  The discussion paper indicates that Canada is considering adopting a structure for the NEB similar to the Alberta Energy Regulator, with a corporate-style board to direct the NEB, and separate hearing commissioners to review projects and make regulatory decisions.  The NEB’s legislation would provide for Indigenous representation on the board and among hearing commissioners, and provide for an expanded role for Indigenous peoples in monitoring of pipelines and other energy infrastructure.

The discussion paper proposes expanding the authority of the NEB to cover renewable energy projects and infrastructure in offshore areas under federal jurisdiction.

Unlike the modernization report, the discussion paper does not propose to move the NEB’s headquarters to Ottawa.  The discussion paper indicates that the NEB will continue to be based in Calgary.

Navigable Waters

The discussion paper does not propose to undo the 2012 changes implemented by the Navigation Protection Act, principally the introduction of a list of waterways subject to the Act’s requirements.  However, the discussion paper does indicate that a process will be added to provide for clear criteria and a transparent process for adding other navigable waters to the schedule.


The key fisheries-related change identified in the discussion paper is a return to prohibition of the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction (HADD) of fish habitat without approval.  The discussion paper also proposes clarification of when Fisheries Act authorizations are needed for projects and when they are not, identification of measures to avoid and mitigate harm to habitat through development and enforcement of standards and codes of practice.  The discussion paper also indicates that project proponents will be subject to increased reporting requirements in relation to activities affecting fish and fish habitat.

The Government of Canada is seeking comment on the proposed legislative changes prior to August 28, 2017.  The discussion paper indicates that Canada is working towards introduction of proposed legislative changes in the fall of 2017.

[1]  See our prior blog posts on these developments:

  • John  Olynyk
    General Counsel

    John is Lawson Lundell’s General Counsel and a member of the firm’s management team.

    In addition, as Senior Counsel John is a member of the firm’s Indigenous, Environmental, and Project Development practice groups. His ...

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Lawson Lundell's Environmental, Indigenous and Natural Resources Blog focuses on environmental, indigenous and natural resources law, as well as related litigation. Included are summaries of significant cases from Canadian appellate courts, changes in the legal framework governing resource development including energy and climate change policy, and key decisions from the more influential regulatory bodies in Canada.

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