Thank you very much, Madam Chair and members of the committee. It's a pleasure for the Mining Association of Canada to be with you today.
Members of the committee, I'm mad.
Last week, you heard from Minister Carr, who said:
All projects that are currently under review will be reviewed under the National Energy Board
Even after the legislation is proclaimed, these projects that began under the current system will remain under the current system unless the proponent makes the choice to move to the new one. It would be a decision that the proponent would make.
It makes sense. Such logic befits a democratic country such as ours, where rule of law is respected.
What he didn't tell you is that for mining projects and all others subject to agency assessment, the rule of law will be ignored by this bill. In the case of mining, only projects at the very end of their reviews, awaiting final decisions, will remain under CEAA 2012. All other projects that are any earlier in the process will transfer to the new IA act and essentially start again in some way, shape, or form to be determined by officials on a case-by-case basis, however they think best, at a date we don't yet know.
When we asked why this is, we were told that the government is concerned that there would be projects a few years after the act came into force that would still be governed by CEAA 2012, and that these assessments would lack public confidence. They said they wanted to clean house and bring all assessments forward under one act, to make their workload a little less complicated. The fact that it will make the workload of mining companies wanting to invest billions of dollars in Canada a whole lot more complicated didn't seem to matter.
I ask this committee: Why is it that the government feels there will be a lack of public confidence in mining reviews but not pipelines? Why the double standard in Bill C-69?
Shouldn't the government be more concerned about the lack of international investor confidence in Canada's respect for the rule of law?
To be clear, it is not fear or opposition to the IA act that makes me say this. As will be evident in a minute, we believe that the proposed legislation, implemented well, may result in an improved review process for mining over CEAA 2012. The problem is the uncertainty. Proponents making billion-dollar investments need to know what the rules are and how they will be implemented. You can't have this certainty knowing that the rules may change midstream in some way.
Thus MAC strongly recommends that the committee support the proposed amendment in our submission that would change the transition provisions by amending proposed section 181 so that projects undergoing CEAA 2012 agency assessment will continue under CEAA 2012, but allow the proponent to request transition of the assessment to the IAA or impact assessment act; i.e., the same as for NEB projects.
Now let me turn to comments on the rest of the proposed legislation. A number of measures, implemented well, as I said, hold the promise of an improved review process for mines.
Mining is constitutionally the responsibility of provinces, and each of Canada's provinces has its own environmental assessment regime. In addition to the requirements for building and operating a mine, provinces require companies to develop reclamation plans and provide financial assurance for their implementation. Co-operation with other jurisdictions on project review is, therefore, critical for the mining sector.
Although CEAA 2012 introduced the possibility of substitution to other jurisdictions, in practice this has only been taken up by one province, British Columbia.
CEAA 2012 also introduced legislated timelines, which are critical for industry and the smooth functioning of assessment. However, CEAA 2012's timelines are rigid and have had the unintended effect of making co-operation more difficult and at times unworkable with other jurisdictions that have not pursued substitution.
The proposed IAA maintains timelines but provides for flexibility to better align with other jurisdictions, plus it contains a number of other measures that should improve co-operation with provincial governments. As well, we are encouraged that the proposed legislation provides for extending co-operation with indigenous governments.
There is one notable exception with regard to uranium mines and mills, and that is the one my colleague and friend Liam Mooney just mentioned. I won't repeat what he just said—I think he made exactly the same point I was going to make—except to emphasize that while, as I've just said, there are measures in this proposed legislation that promise to improve coordination for mining projects with other levels of government, it takes a step backwards when it comes to uranium mines and mills. That needs to be addressed in the way that Liam Mooney just outlined. We urge this committee to take that recommendation extremely seriously. It's our understanding as well that this is an inadvertent measure, so I'm hopeful this committee will recognize that and correct it.
Beyond provincial assessments and permitting and federal assessment, many mines require other federal approvals. Inadequate interdepartmental coordination has been a source of duplication and delays for mining for years. MAC, therefore, is encouraged by proposed subsection 13(2) and related provisions, which hold the promise of improved coordination and shorter timelines, though I might add that the different treatment of NEB projects and CEAA suggests there is still work to do to improve coordination between two parts of government.
Perhaps our greatest concern with CEAA 2012 has been how it has disproportionately applied the responsibility for cumulative effects to proposed mining projects and not to the sources of most environmental effects. The project-by-project approach to addressing cumulative effects in CEAA 2012 is dysfunctional, penalizing responsible project proponents while failing to address cumulative effects resulting from activities that are not designated projects under the act.
The mining industry is not the only user of the land base. Its impacts are localized and, on most metrics of environmental effects, dwarfed by other activities.
We're encouraged, therefore, by the approach proposed in the IAA, which includes cumulative effects as a factor to consider in decision-making, but not as a sole factor. The IAA also proposes to strengthen provisions for regional and strategic assessments.
Governments are best placed to undertake cumulative effects assessment on a regional basis. We've been advocating these measures for over 15 years, so we are pleased to see them incorporated in Bill C-69, An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act.
It is critical, however, that the completion of regional assessments not be a prerequisite to individual project assessments. It would be unreasonable and prohibitive to Canada's investment climate to delay projects while awaiting governments to address all relevant gaps.
It will take many years to complete regional studies across the country, and we can't wait for all of those to be completed before we allow projects to move forward.
Related to these issues is the project list, where mining makes up the vast majority of CEAA projects despite a relatively small footprint. While the revision of the regulations designating physical activities is subject to separate consultations, we are concerned that the IAA will remain arbitrarily and disproportionately applied to mining. Should this be the case, it will hamper our sector while not achieving the sustainability, public trust, and indigenous reconciliation goals the act is purported to advance.
Let me conclude with the following message. Our sector has entered a new period of strong commodity prices, and decisions are being made around the world on where to invest. Unfortunately, pipeline politics and the general politicization of natural resources development, in a country that is a recognized leader in natural resources, are putting our country's future at serious risk.
Canada's relative share of global mineral exploration investment has fallen by half in the past five years, and the number of projects submitted for review has hit record lows since the original CEAA was proclaimed in 1992.
Sadly, most of my members are not choosing Canada right now, and I fear that, unless the situation I described improves quickly, Canada is going to largely miss the current cycle. This will impact a sector with nearly 400 agreements with indigenous communities across Canada, which has become the largest employer of indigenous people and one of the largest clients of indigenous businesses.
Canada is in desperate need of some stability and predictability in the regulatory environment governing natural resources. It is in this spirit that we submit our comments on this proposed legislation. The proposed legislation, while not perfect, addresses some long-standing concerns we've had with federal environmental assessment and some more recent problems we've experienced with CEAA 2012. If implemented well—this is a critical “if”—and if you support our two critical amendments, the proposed legislation could bring some certainty and predictability back to the federal project review of mining projects.