Lawyers hope for amendments to environmental assessment bill

The federal government’s bill to reform the environmental assessment process, Bill C-69, has reached the committee stage in the Senate, with a number of senators publicly commenting that they would like to see amendments made to the bill in the face of certain industries objecting to it.

Environmental lawyers in Ontario say they hope the government will be open to amendments.

The bill aims to reform the federal environmental assessment regime and place more emphasis on early engagement with affected communities as a way of avoiding problems as the assessment process unfolds, under the supervision of a newly created federal Impact Assessment Agency.

It has faced criticism from lawyers in the field for not providing enough certainty to proponents, for changing the standard of assessment and for giving too much discretion to the environment minister in approving projects.

Michael Fortier, a partner with Torys LLP in Toronto, who does proponent-side work with energy, infrastructure, mining and metals industries, says he would like to see amendments that would ensure more certainty around the timelines of project assessments.

“For proponents, their question is, ‘How long is this process going to take me?’” says Fortier. “The way [the bill] is currently, with so many potential off-ramps in terms of timing, where the clock can be stopped, it’s hard to give an aggregate time.”

Fortier says the ability to “stop the clock” during the process can add years to an approval process and that in....

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