APTN National News
OTTAWA–A major overhaul of how major resource development projects get approved unveiled in the federal budget Thursday could have an impact on Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline which is in the midst of hearings to decide its fate.
The overhaul, which will result in new legislation and amendments to existing laws, will improve the consultation process with impacted First Nations communities, create fixed timelines for approving projects, narrow existing federal responsibility for approving projects and create the option for provinces to have the final say on the environmental approval for projects, according to the budget.
What specific, detailed changes the overhaul will bring remains to be revealed, but federal officials speaking on background, said all projects currently awaiting approval will be reviewed during a so-called “transition period.”
The $5.5 billion Northern Gateway pipeline project to ship Alberta bitumen to tankers bound for Asia on the British Columbia coast is currently in the midst of 18 months of hearings before a three person panel appointed by the National Energy Board and the Environment Minister.
When pressed by journalists during a background briefing, federal officials refused to say what impact the changes would have on the contentious pipeline project which has nearly blanket opposition from First Nations in its corridor.
The promised changes, however, prioritize improving the way First Nations are consulted on proposed resource development projects. The federal government will invest $13.6 million over the next two years into the Canadian Environment Assessment Agency to improve consultations with First Nations.
Ottawa also plans to integrate consultation with First Nations into the project reviews, designate a lead federal coordinator for these consultations and end the overlap with provinces. It remains unclear, however, whether this will mean sharper lines defining what consultation means and what role the private sector will play.
Canadian courts have ruled there is a duty to consult with First Nations whenever a project has an impact on traditional territory and Indigenous culture, but a lot of uncertainty remains over what constitute proper consultation.
As part of the overhaul, Ottawa plans to narrow federal jurisdiction over approving resource development projects which is currently spread across 40 departments and agencies. It will also set fix timelines for project reviews from 12 months to 24 months, depending on the agency and process involved.
The federal government will also allow provinces to give provinces the final say on environmental reviews and transfer authority over issuing certain permits from federal departments to the provinces and territories.