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One project, one review to streamline major projects

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Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver recently provided additional details to a measure announced in the March 29th federal budget. Major project reviews will now recognize provincial processes as substitutes or equivalents to federal ones as long as they meet the requirements under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

After years of stakeholder lobbying, the federal government has announced it is creating a “one project, one review” process for environmental reviews to cut down on wait time for major economic projects.

Canadian Construction Association (CCA) president Michael Atkinson said the Canadian economy is still “chugging along” because of its natural resources and the red tape created a backlog.

“If the companies and the industries in the resource sector, that are willing to make those investments to develop Canada’s natural resources, find that there are too many roadblocks, uncertainty or added cost, they’re going to go elsewhere.”

The federal Responsible Resource Development plan promises to make the review process for major projects more predictable and timely; reduce duplication; strengthen environmental protection; and enhance consultations with Aboriginal peoples.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver recently provided additional details to the measure announced in the March 29th federal budget.

“It’s not the fact that’s it’s an environmental assessment, to some degree. Any process that was mired in this kind of red tape and bureaucracy and duplication, it’s just not going to be as effective as it should be. The fact that we’re talking about environmental review and assessment is almost secondary,” said Atkinson.

Major project reviews will now recognize provincial processes as substitutes or equivalents to federal ones as long as they meet the requirements under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The plan leaves three agencies responsible for reviews — the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission — down from 40.

The government would have 45 days to decide if an assessment is needed. It plans to set a 24-month timeline for panel reviews, 18 months for National Energy Board hearings and 12 months for standard environmental assessments.

“Specifically, we intend to focus federal assessment efforts on major projects that can have significant environmental effects, such as energy and mining projects, rather than spending valuable resources on reviews of maple syrup operations, buildings to wash blueberries, and internal renovations to existing government buildings,” said Oliver in his speech at Toronto’s Automatic Coating Limited, a world leader in applying liquid and powder coating.

Atkinson pointed out that in the past assessments and reviews of larger projects have taken an “inordinate” amount of time, sometimes up to five or six years. He said the timeliness measure creates certainty in projects.

With the previous system, small projects got caught in the regulatory net. Atkinson pointed to the need for reviews similar to those during the stimulus program for projects like replacing or repairing existing infrastructure.

The government also plans to toughen enforcement. Proponents of major projects will have to comply with conditions set out in the decision statements or they could face penalties from $100,000 to $400,000.

The announcement did not specify when these new regulations would take effect as consultation is needed with the provinces.

“We’ve got every confidence in what we’re hearing from Minister Oliver, the Prime Minister and [Finance] Minister [Jim] Flaherty that it’s not going to be a long time, it’s going to be as quickly as prudently possible,” he said.

It is projected there could be more than 500 major projects worth half a trillion dollars of new investments in the Canadian energy and mining industries over the next decade.

by Kelly Lapointe

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