Guest blog by Independent BC MLA Bob Simpson
The federal government’s rationale for streamlining the environmental review process is based on fallacious arguments about the certainty that’s needed for investors and about the state of Canada’s regulatory regime.
In B.C., the real certainty that’s needed is a resolution to the question of ownership. No tinkering with the environmental review process will make B.C. attractive to investors as long as First Nations’ rights and title issues remain unresolved. Until this fundamental question of ownership of the resources is addressed, B.C. will never be the safe haven for investors the BC Liberals claim it to be. Projects that manage to make it through an environmental review in a timely manner and with a positive outcome will still be subjected to protests and court challenges if the rights and title to the resources remain contested.
The other justification for streamlining the environmental review process is that Canada has high environmental standards that are stringently enforced. This is simply not true.
The same federal budget that proposes to put time constraints on the environmental review process and make it more efficient also proposes to further gut environmental regulations and reduce the number of people on the ground that would enforce the minimalist regulations that remain. We’ve seen this story play out in B.C. over the last decade as the B.C. government gutted its Environmental Assessment Office process and budget, privatized our public forests, dramatically reduced compliance and enforcement activity, opened up the northeast to unplanned and unfettered development, and cut the budgets of every “dirt” ministry to the point that we no longer have the capacity to manage B.C.’s public resources in the public interest.
I’m not opposed to taking a “one project, one review” approach to major resource projects; it does not make sense to have duplicate processes. However, in order to ensure that we gain the efficiencies a single window approach would allow, we must address the outstanding rights and title issues, ensure we have high environmental standards that guarantee best practices to protect environmental and social values, and we must have a substantial compliance and enforcement regime that ensures these best practices are used by every company that’s given the right to develop our public resources.
Unfortunately, the current federal and the current B.C. government have not demonstrated that this is the framework they intend to build around a streamlined and time limited environmental review process. Instead, it’s evident that both governments simply want to facilitate access to public resources as quickly as possible while minimizing the opportunity for public debate and dialogue about the best use of those resources and the environmental and social implications of their extraction.
That’s why the efforts of both the federal and provincial governments to gut both the environmental assessment process and environmental regulations must be resisted by anyone who is concerned about the wise use of our public resources for current and future generations.