Mrs. Deborah Schulte (King—Vaughan, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-69. As chair of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, I found it a privilege to be able to study this bill and report it back to the House with important amendments. These amendments were developed after listening to over 55 witnesses and receiving over 150 briefs from NGOs, indigenous peoples, unions, experts, and industry representatives. The amendments adopted were to bring more predictability, transparent decision-making, clarity on expectations, and timely reviews.
Our government is committed to regaining public trust in the review of projects and to getting Canada's resources to market. That is what this bill will do.
Since 2012, we have seen that weaker rules have hurt Canada's economy and our environment. Without public trust and support, projects cannot move forward and investment is put at risk. This bill would result in better rules to govern major project reviews, helping ensure that Canadians can benefit from over $500 billion in major resource projects planned over the next decade. It would provide predictable, timely project reviews to encourage investment. At the same time, it would ensure that our environment is protected and that we can meet our commitments to reduce carbon pollution and transition to a clean-growth economy.
Engagement with industry as well as with indigenous peoples, provinces and territories, stakeholders, and Canadians has been instrumental in the development of this bill. Over 14 months leading up to its introduction, the government heard from companies about what they need to keep good projects moving forward. Since then, the government has continued to stay engaged with companies, indigenous peoples, and stakeholders. Consistently, companies have told us that they need certainty about the process, about what is required and when, and about how decisions on project approvals are made. Bill C-69 would provide that certainty.
To begin with, one agency, the new impact assessment agency of Canada, would act as a federal lead for all major project reviews. This will result in reviews that are more consistent and more predictable. We have consulted with Canadians on the criteria that will form the basis for a revised project list, which will provide clarity on how our new rules will apply.
Through a new early planning and engagement phase, companies would be able to identify and address issues early on, before an impact assessment begins. The bill provides clarity on the scope and outputs of this new phase. It would result in tailored impact statement guidelines that reflect factors and requirements relevant to the project, as well as a co-operation plan, an indigenous engagement and partnership plan, a public participation plan, and, if required, a permitting plan.
Details on these products will be set out in regulations, which the government is consulting on now, and which would come into force at the same time as the impact assessment act. The early planning stage would define requirements and clarify expectations so that companies would know what was expected of them, and when. It would help them design and plan their projects and more effectively engage indigenous peoples, stakeholders, and local communities.
The minister would also be able to inform companies early on if a project is likely to have negative impacts, without stopping the process. This would give companies an earlier opportunity to decide whether to continue with an impact assessment.
Bill C-69 would ensure that companies know in advance what would be considered in a project review and in decision-making. Reviews would take into account not just environmental impacts, but also social, economic, and health effects, as well as impacts on indigenous peoples and their rights.
This bill would also provide strong transparency measures so that proponents are informed about key decisions, as well as the reasons behind them. That includes, for example, decisions to extend the timeline for a review or to refer a final decision on a project to cabinet.
When final decisions are made on whether a project will go ahead, the proponent would be informed of the reasons for the decision and would be assured that all key factors were appropriately considered.
Bill C-69 would also respond to what we have heard from industry by providing more timely assessments. Our better rules would include stricter timeline management, with shorter timelines for assessments. Specifically, timelines for agency-led reviews would be reduced from 365 to 300 days; panel reviews would be shortened from 720 days to a maximum of 600 days; and, in addition, panel reviews for designated projects reviewed in collaboration with a federal life-cycle regulator would be shortened to 300 days, with the option to allow the minister to set the timeline up to a maximum of 600 days if warranted, based on the project's complexity. As well, timelines for non-designated projects reviewed by life-cycle regulators would be shortened from 450 to 300 days.
Regulations would require clear rules around when timelines could be paused. When there is a decision to extend a timeline, the proponent would need to be informed about the reasons why.
I would like to briefly mention how Bill C-69 would support one project, one review, and how this would contribute to our goal of getting our resources to market. The bill would provide for joint reviews and substitution, in which a review process led by another jurisdiction would fulfill the requirement for a federal review. Those provisions would help promote cooperation with provinces and territories, reduce red tape, and prevent duplication. We are also increasing opportunities for partnership with indigenous peoples and for indigenous governing bodies to take on key responsibilities. That could include taking the lead on assessments through the bill's substitution provisions.
Our government has heard from industry how important it is for Bill C-69 to provide a smooth transition between the current assessment regime and the new regime. Transition provisions must be clear and predictable to encourage investment and keep good projects moving forward. Bill C-69 would provide that clarity by setting out objective criteria to identify projects that would continue to be reviewed under CEAA 2012, giving companies the option to opt into the new process, and confirming that no one would go back to the starting line.
I would just like to emphasize that as a result of the committee's work, Bill C-69 now includes stronger transparency provisions that would benefit proponents and provide more certainty and consistency across the legislation. For example, assessment reports would be required to incorporate a broader range of information, including a summary of comments received, recommendations on mitigation measures and follow-up, and the agency's rationale and conclusions. Public comments would have to be made available on the Internet, and information posted online would need to be maintained so that it could be accessed over time.
The standing committee also addressed feedback from industry that some smaller projects with federal life-cycle regulators, such as offshore renewable energy projects, could face longer reviews than they do now. The amendments address this by establishing a new timeline of 300 days for reviews of projects with a life-cycle regulator, with the possibility of setting the timeline to a maximum of 600 days, if warranted.
Complementing the existing provisions to support timeliness, the amended bill would set a clear 45-day timeline for establishing a review panel. The committee's amendments would clarify that public comments must be provided during a time period specified by the agency, so that meaningful participation would be ensured and balanced with the need for timely assessments.
The standing committee further advanced the objective of one project, one review. As a result of the committee's amendments, integrated review panels involving federal regulators would also be able to include other jurisdictions, making it possible to have just one assessment that meets all of the requirements. Finally, the standing committee responded to feedback from companies by making the bill's transitional provisions even clearer.
To conclude, the bill responds to what we have heard from companies, providing clarity on expectations and requirements, predictable timely reviews, and transparent decision-making. By rebuilding public trust, it would encourage investment and help create new jobs and opportunities for Canadians.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Impact Assessment Act