Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development (ENVI) Regarding Bill C-69

This is MiningWatch Canada’s submission regarding Bill C-69, An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. Our focus is on Part 1, the Impact Assessment Act (IAA).

MiningWatch Canada was created in 1999 as a co-ordinated public interest response to the threats to public health, water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and community interests posed by irresponsible mineral policies and practices in Canada and around the world. We are supported by twenty-seven Canadian environmental, social justice, Indigenous, and labour organisations. We have been an active member of the Canadian Environmental Network (RCEN) and its Environmental Planning and Assessment (EPA) Caucus since 1999, and currently co-chair the Caucus along with West Coast Environmental Law. MiningWatch also participates as an environmental public-interest representative on the Minister’s Multi-Interest Advisory Committee (MIAC).

MiningWatch has worked on environmental assessments of dozens of mining projects, directly or in collaboration with communities and other groups. We have been very active in trying to improve environmental assessment law, policy, and practice, working with administrative and legislative bodies and even litigating, when necessary, to protect the public interest and the integrity of the environmental assessment process, winning a significant ruling in the Supreme Court of Canada in 2010. We have seen examples of environmental assessment processes working well, and we also have seen what doesn’t work. We have consistently tried to identify and advocate ways to make the process work better.

Like many groups who work with communities affected by commercial development projects, and many members of those communities, we were greatly encouraged by the government’s direction in reforming environmental assessment law, as well as the Expert Panel process that the government created to advance that agenda, notwithstanding its compressed time frame – both in the astonishing quantity and quality of participation from the public and Indigenous peoples, including experts as well as lay people, and in the depth of thought and consideration that the Expert Panel reflected in its report.

Bill C-69 itself, however, brings both promise and disappointment. It does not fulfil the government’s promise of restoring public confidence, and therefore also cannot fulfil the promise of facilitating good development projects. In some respects, it represents a failure of ambition, where a stronger commitment and stronger leadership are required to meet the challenges of the 21st century. In other respects, it is just a matter of design flaws and limitations of implementation. At this juncture, it may be too late to address the bigger structural problems, but Parliament has the opportunity to fix many of the Bill’s deficiencies.