Thank you for the opportunity to present to you today. I am here with my colleague, Justyna Laurie-Lean, who has worked on federal environment assessments since the act's inception.
MAC represents the majority of major mining producers in Canada. Our members produce a diversity of minerals and metals, including base metals, gold and precious metals, steel-making coal, diamonds, iron ore, uranium, and oil from the oil sands.
All our members subscribe to MAC's award-winning corporate responsibility initiative, called Toward Sustainable Mining. TSM, which is a condition of membership, includes reporting against a range of comprehensive performance metrics subject to external verification at the mine site level. It is the only system of its kind in the world for mining and has been recognized by groups like the Canadian Business for Social Responsibility as best in class.
As you have already heard from the agency, mining is its most important client, comprising the lion's share of its workload. While this has been the case for a long time, it is even more the case today, given the growth under way in our sector. Rising commodity prices driven by China are creating opportunities not seen in decades. We have estimated that there is as much as $137 billion in new private sector mining investment to be spent across Canada in the next decade or less. A lot of this will be subject to federal environmental assessment, so we have a decided interest in your deliberations.
My first message to you is this: for major projects subject to comprehensive studies, i.e., mines, CEAA is no longer broken, so don't fix it. That is to say, with the 2010 amendments we now at last have a federal environmental assessment process that is well managed. The worst unjustifiable delays have been eliminated and the agency is doing a good job running effective and efficient assessments. This was not the case before 2010.
What did the amendments do that was so good? They put someone in charge.
For almost 20 years, Canada had a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency that had no responsibility for environmental assessments. They didn't run them and they were little more than a policy shop. Instead, EAs fell to individual departments whose legislation triggered EAs. For mining, this often meant Fisheries and Oceans, but sometimes Environment Canada or NRCan.
As these departments were neither trained in EAs nor resourced to do them, what happened in practice was that they resisted assuming the responsibility for them. One of the biggest sources of delay was at the front end. Proponents pounded on doors in Ottawa asking for an EA to commence, sometimes waiting as long as 18 months for a process to start. By this time, the provinces were well on their way with their own respective assessments, so harmonization was impossible.
In 2010, the agency was given responsibility for running comprehensive studies and determining whether panels were required. The agency has implemented the amendments well and efficiently, and we commend them for this.
As a result, mining EAs, which are almost always comprehensive studies or panels, start on time. As I said, the agency runs them well. As a result, Ottawa and the provinces are now working together. Reports from our members on the ground are consistent: the agency is doing a good job.
I would pause here to emphasize what we've said to the natural resources committee, the finance committee, and to anyone else who will listen: the funding for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and for the major projects management office sunsets at the end of this fiscal year and we need their funding renewed. Without it, you won't be able to handle the volume, and we risk undermining the gains we have made.
The 2010 amendments did little else of consequence to us. They did not change the nature of EAs, nothing was made easier, and no demands were lessened. All we have ever asked for was a well-run process and now we have one. This is why, as we appear before you today, we implore you not to do anything that might compromise the efficiencies we have finally attained.
We do have some suggestions on how you might go further. We point out that the 2010 amendments have benefited our sector the most, but sectors that are subject to lower-level screenings not administered by the agency did not see meaningful benefits flow from the 2010 amendments.
First, you should consider amending the act to allow for equivalency. Our brief provides sample text. It would allow the federal government, on a case-by-case basis, to allow another jurisdiction's EA to be accepted as equivalent to Ottawa's. In an era of scarce resources and deficits, this means simply letting Canadians' limited tax dollars support one good EA instead of two--one process, not two; one set of public servants, not two. Sometimes these public servants may be federal, sometimes not.
Second, the committee should look at the possibility of giving CEAA the power to work with other jurisdictions at their request on strategic environmental assessments. In 2003, MAC, jointly with environmental groups and the Assembly of First Nations, advanced this idea. It was rejected at that time. Today, there may be more of an appetite for this idea. It would allow the federal government and the provinces to jointly assess a region's carrying capacity and look at broad environmental issues. This would help to prevent layering onto a proponent the undue burden of trying to answer for future developments that may or may not occur. It would provide a useful baseline of environmental information for proponents to build upon and address. It's an idea that would, for example, respond to concerns being raised about the potential developments in the Ring of Fire.
Third, we want to comment on some ideas brought forward by others to date. We agree with the general idea that federal liaison should focus on major projects. Allocating scarce resources to assess the impact of a new park bench in a national park does not seem like a good use of resources. I don't use this example frivolously. These park benches do trigger EAs. However, we would be concerned with wholly abandoning the concept of federal decisions as triggers for federal liaison. Federal EAs should be grounded in federal jurisdiction. To move to a project list approach without triggers would stray significantly into provincial jurisdiction and add yet more complexity and challenges to the natural resource sectors, whose primary regulator is the province.
I note that Arlene Kwasniak, who appeared before you a few days ago, who does a lot of work for the Canadian Environmental Network, also agreed with us on this point. There are means for the federal government to insert itself into projects of national significance if required, but we strongly oppose the idea that Ottawa should become involved in matters of provincial jurisdiction, just because, maybe, it can. There should be a better reason than this. Do not ignore the fact that on environmental matters, the federal government has many other laws at its disposal.
Lastly, we want to comment on the idea of granting CEAA enforcement powers. To us, this seems like passing the buck. We are currently urging the federal government to implement compliance mechanisms for several acts, including the Migratory Birds Convention Act, the Species at Risk Act, and aspects related to the Fisheries Act. Compliance mechanisms would bring enforcement with them. The best way to ensure compliance with the outcomes of federal liaison is to have federal acts that can be enforced in a clear, predictable manner. This is not currently the case. Rather than amend CEAA to create an enforcement provision, we suggest that the federal government make its other acts work the way they should.
Thank you, and we look forward to your questions.