Lawyers say Ottawa’s revised environmental laws won’t shorten the permitting process

The federal government’s proposed changes to environmental regulations for resource projects could reduce Ottawa’s oversight but are unlikely to shorten approval times, according to a law firm’s analysis.

The proposed changes respond to concerns expressed by the Supreme Court of Canada in October. He ruled that the Impact Assessment Act was unconstitutional because the federal government had exceeded its powers in provincial areas. The Liberal government’s budget speech in mid-April indicated that suggested modifications were coming.

The proposals will likely be revised through public consultation, lawyers at Toronto-based law firm Osler said in a report this month. The fundamental procedures, deadlines and powers contained in the act will remain unchanged after the amendment, said the law firm that represented the Alberta Business Council as an intervener in the Supreme Court case. It said the proposals include provisions for retroactive application to projects already assessed under the Act.

“It is uncertain whether they will lead to significant changes in the way the current law is applied,” the company said. “The changes also do not take into account the criticism of the drafters that the current act discourages investments in new projects because its applicability, deadlines and decision-making powers are uncertain and unpredictable.”

Seasoned entrepreneur Pierre Lasonde said there should be only one environmental impact assessment under provincial jurisdiction, with specific goals and a set timeline.