Providing Regulatory Certainty (Potential Area of Focus)

Federal, provincial and territorial environmental and regulatory regimes for mining must safeguard the interests of Canadians and have the confidence of the public. At the same time, regulatory regimes that are efficient, transparent and predictable serve as a competitive advantage that facilitate sound project planning, investment decisions and Canada’s ability to get resources to market.

As per jurisdictional roles, most mining projects are subject to both federal and provincial/territorial environmental assessment (EA) processes and regulatory approvals. The federal government and the provinces and territories work together provide timely and effective assessment and regulatory approval processes that enables both orders of government to ensure their legal requirements are met.

Research shows that Canada tops its competitors (Australia, the U.S., Scandinavia and Chile) in terms of the speed of its permitting process for exploration and mining activities. Research also shows that Canada trails its competitors in terms of the transparency of its process.Footnote 1Footnote 2 While the existing environmental and regulatory regime has protected our natural environment, continual improvements in terms of harmonization, transparency and efficiency can help unlock Canada’s mineral potential.

Proposed new rules for major projects and the environment

In February 2018, the Government of Canada announced proposed legislative changes that aim to improve the rules for major projects to protect the environment, fish and waterways, and build public trust in how decisions around resource development are made.

One of the key proposed changes aims to provide greater clarity and consistency by establishing the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (currently the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency) to lead all federal reviews of major projects, in cooperation with provinces and territories and Indigenous jurisdictions.

Proposed changes would include:

  • More transparency and certainty that decisions will be based on robust science, evidence and Indigenous traditional knowledge;
  • More and earlier opportunities for meaningful participation by Indigenous peoples and the Canadian public;
  • More Indigenous leadership opportunities and partnership in project review;
  • Impact assessment would look at all of a project’s impacts to foster sustainability, rather than only considering environmental factors;
  • More coordination with provinces to support “one project one assessment” and avoid duplication; and
  • More predictable and consistent timelines.

As of March 2018, the proposed Impact Assessment Act is undergoing review by Parliament. Until the proposed legislation comes into effect, existing laws and interim principles will continue to apply to projects under review.

Challenges

The regulatory framework for mining-related activities is complex and continually evolving. Projects require numerous permits, authorizations, and/or licences from federal and provincial/territorial institutions, and in some cases, from Indigenous-led bodies. They are required for: Indigenous land claims; land use; exploration; fiscal matters (e.g. bonding for reclamation); labour; transportation; environmental considerations; and others.

Additional challenges exist, including the ability of our regulatory regime to respond to emerging technologies and processes that can improve environmental and economic performance; ensuring that evidence-based decisions reflect the best available science and Indigenous knowledge; and creating a path for projects to proceed in partnership with Indigenous peoples and communities.

Discussion questions

  • How can governments streamline our regulatory environment?
  • How do we build a framework that allows us to capitalize on opportunities?

Footnotes