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Canada’s quest for critical minerals has led to an astonishing promise: The federal government says it can slash the time it takes a proposed mine to get through the regulatory review process from 12 to 15 years – to just five.

Without access to a supply of pixie dust or a time machine, this commitment will demand a phenomenal amount of goodwill and co-operation from industry, Indigenous communities and the provinces and territories.

Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, wants to clear the obstacles to developing critical minerals that are needed for electric vehicles and wind turbines, including cobalt, copper, graphite, lithium and nickel.

There are many regulatory reviews – both specific permits and the broader environmental assessments – needed to determine if a new mine can be built. Mr. Wilkinson is proposing to conduct those reviews simultaneously, instead of sequentially. In addition, he wants to boost regulatory funding to cut processing backlogs, and he says Canada is prepared to spend more on infrastructure, roads and transmission lines, to support proposed new mines that target the minerals Canada wants most.

The details are laid out in a paper from the minister’s working group looking at efficiency for clean growth projects. Clean growth is a catchy phrase that could almost make one forget that extracting minerals isn’t clean and green.

There are carbon emissions and tailings ponds filled with wastewater, deforestation and contamination of soil and waterways. Sometimes, Canada is left with toxic legacies when the boom is over and mining companies fold. These are just some of the reasons to maintain a robust regulatory environment.

There is also Canada’s duty to consult with Indigenous peoples on resource projects within their traditional territories. Indigenous peoples’ participation in lengthy and complex environmental consultations consumes significant administrative resources, and asking these communities to provide meaningful input into multiple processes at the same time – while still trying to deal with other pressing issues – may not be fair.

The working group proposes an Indigenous Loan Guarantee Program to encourage Indigenous equity ownership in major projects in the energy and natural resource sector, and details are expected in the April 16 budget.

But offering Indigenous communities a stake in mining isn’t always the answer. Ottawa must clearly lay out how it intends to assist Indigenous communities when they are asked to consult on multiple layers of a mining application. Where there are willing participants, however, the government can help build capacity so that communities can determine if a project is in their interest. But industry and government must accept that sometimes, consultation can’t be rushed.

Mr. Wilkinson’s vision presents a challenge to the mining industry too. Investors can be reluctant to commit to a project when they don’t know if the basic infrastructure, such as roads, will be approved. The onus will be on companies to collect all of their data and make their applications in a speedy way. Ottawa is offering the potential for a faster and more transparent regulatory environment. But it cannot guarantee it.

There is the question of harmonization with other levels of government. The Supreme Court of Canada last fall ruled that Ottawa overstepped its authority to assess the environmental impact of major resource projects. Ontario Premier Doug Ford gleefully welcomed the decision, but Mr. Wilkinson says legislative changes in response to that ruling could come in the federal budget.

The federal government holds up British Columbia as the model for co-operation. B.C. and Canada agreed 20 years ago to harmonize their environmental assessments, and in 2020 they added an impact assessment co-operation pact. Yet the regulatory timeline in B.C. for mines is still 12 to 15 years.

B.C.’s mining record also underscores the need for strong regulation, best captured in the Tulsequah Chief mine saga. The copper, lead and zinc mine opened in 1951 and closed six years later. The abandoned mine has been leaching heavy metals into the surrounding waterways ever since, and B.C. is still waiting to see industry produce a plan for cleanup.

Mr. Wilkinson is to be congratulated on his ambition. But he could widen its ambit – perhaps to all big projects, not just those on the Liberals’ wish list.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article referred to the legal duty to consult and accommodate with First Nations. It should have said there is a duty to consult with Indigenous communities, which include First Nations, Inuit and Métis. This version has been updated.

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