Pierre Gratton is the president and CEO of the Mining Association of Canada.
Canada’s natural resource sectors are bedrocks of our economy. Our mining sector, in particular, is widely recognized as a global leader. We’ve also consistently been one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment, even more so when we include oil sands mining. Today, unfortunately, this provider of three-quarters of a million jobs – the largest private-sector employer of Indigenous Canadians – and 20 per cent of Canada’s exports is at risk, with major implications for the overall health of the economy and our collective well-being.
Put simply, investment confidence in Canada’s natural resource sectors is in trouble. The politicization of pipelines and a decade of legislative uncertainty regarding the review of natural resource projects lie at the heart of it. This politicization needs to end. One way to end it is by encouraging Parliament to pass Bill C-69, the Impact Assessment Act (IAA).
The bill is not perfect legislation. For most mining proponents, it increases the likelihood of, but does not guarantee, timelier outcomes. It will not ensure that all proposed projects will be approved. It will reduce but not eliminate uncertainty. For uranium mines and mills, this legislation is not better because they will lose the single-window integration of assessment and licensing processes. Well-planned implementation of the act and excellent co-ordination between the Impact Assessment Agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and provincial authorities will be critical to a timely and workable process, as will a project list that reflects that all uranium mine and mill projects, however small, will be subject to the additional hurdle of a panel proceeding.
However, if well implemented, Bill C-69 holds the promise of improving upon predecessor legislation for most mines and the status quo – and the status quo is not sustainable for Canada.
Canada’s mining sector has been subject to federal and provincial environmental assessments for more than 20 years. For the past six years, since the passage of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) in 2012 by the previous federal government, mining has represented approximately 60 per cent of all federal reviews. Our industry has the most experience with environmental or impact assessment in the country – and we know what works and what doesn’t. We know that, to be successful, the IAA will require effective implementation. We also know that, even with effective implementation, maintaining the status quo will continue the erosion of new mining investment.
The IAA builds upon CEAA 2012 in a few key ways. First, it provides more tools to enable federal, provincial and Indigenous government collaboration on project assessments to fulfill the elusive promise of one project, one review. It will be critical that other governments take up the opportunity offered by the IAA to negotiate agreements with the federal government on how assessments will be co-ordinated.
Second, it strengthens the authority of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to manage reviews and co-ordinate across federal departments. Some of the greatest causes of delays and uncertainty involve the random information requests of individual departments. The management of project reviews will be made easier by the IAA, which will also facilitate more efficient post-review permitting.
Third, the IAA takes a more holistic approach to assessing cumulative effects. Under CEAA 2012, mining projects have been held to account for the impacts of other proponents on the land base, which is both unfair to mining proponents and does little to protect the environment. The use of regional and strategic impact assessments, as well as a change to how cumulative effects are considered for individual projects, is a significant improvement of the IAA over CEAA 2012.
Lastly, the proposed IAA is also seen by many Indigenous groups and environmental organizations as an improvement over CEAA 2012. Greater confidence in federal legislation will, hopefully, translate into less polarization around individual projects and an acceptance of outcomes.
The Senate soon begins its review of Bill C-69. We trust that they will consider this legislation in the context of what it builds upon. If they do so, they will pass the bill and send it on to Royal Assent. Then we can all get back to creating jobs and wealth for Canada and Canadians.