In February, Green Action Centre, along with West Coast Environmental Law and Mining Watch Canada, proposed A Checklist for Strong Environmental Laws. It asserts the need for the federal government to “affirm a strong role in environmental protection – and environmental assessment in particular – if we hope to achieve the resilience and sustainability needed for the Canadian economy to thrive over time.” Key components of the checklist include:

  • adopting sustainability as the core objective of environmental assessment legislation
  • strengthening public participation in assessments of proposed projects or policies
  • establishing a legal framework for strategic and regional environmental assessments
  • requiring comprehensive, regional cumulative effects assessments

Yesterday, as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty released the federal budget, environmentalists raised concerns about the impact it would have on environmental protection in Canada. The new budget’s plans regarding the environment are opposite to those advocated by the Green Action Centre and West Coast Environmental Law.

For one, Environment Canada’s budget is being cut again, this time by 6%. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) is in line for a 40% cut in the new budget year.

The budget also promises to “streamline” the environmental review process. The time frame for assessments is going to be drastically shortened. Projects like the Northern Gateway oil pipeline, which would currently take up to six years to be approved, can now be pushed through in no more than 24 months. Flaherty has also touted a “one project, one review” principle, so as to “ensure that Canada has the infrastructure we need to move our exports to new markets.” This is all part of the federal government’s plan to encourage economic growth.

Shorter reviews, however, will give the public less time and fewer opportunities to be participate in assessments. The “one project, one review” principle may be insufficient to ensure that Canadians and the environment are protected. Eliminating federal government reviews will eliminate an important environmental safety net. The provinces may not be able to fill the void, as they have inconsistent and weak legislation.

Jessica Clogg of West Coast Environmental Law stated yesterday that “A robust, sustainable economy depends on a healthy environment.” Changes to Canadian environmental laws announced in Budget 2012 will take Canada in the wrong direction.