Thank you very much.
It is a real pleasure to be here with you today. I will be making my statement in English, but if you have questions in French, I will be pleased to answer them.
I'm going to be using a deck presentation, and I'll work you through it quickly.
Turning to page 3 of the presentation, I want to talk a little about what environmental assessment is.
Environmental assessment is a planning tool. It's designed to bring environmental considerations into project planning and into economic development. Also, because humans are part of the environment, a lot of social questions come up in environmental assessments too.
A way of thinking about environmental assessments is that it's where sustainable development gets worked out in a practical way. Those interests—social, economic, environmental—intersect and sometimes collide in the environmental assessment process. Environmental assessment processes can be contentious if there's controversy about an economic development project, and there is also a lot of legitimate disagreement about what the process should be when we look at environmental and social considerations in project planning.
It will be an important aspect of the work that this committee will do during this government's mandate. That's clear from the environment minister's mandate letter, so I'd like to tell you a bit about how the process works right now.
It's designed to be used early in a planning process for a project, before any decisions are made. It's designed to ensure that costly mistakes are avoided. We identify what the potential effects of the project could be. We tend to focus on what the adverse effects are, but we also look at what the positive effects can be, and we identify measures to mitigate adverse effects.
A key part of the process is to provide opportunities for the public to participate, to learn about the project, and to think about how it might affect them and what could be done about it to make it an acceptable project for them. It's a key forum for us to consider impacts on indigenous peoples and to address those impacts. It's a key tool for achieving accommodation and reconciliation of aboriginal rights with other public interests.
In the environmental assessment process, you can expect that the proponent's design will change over the course of the process. That is what the process is designed to do. It's designed to drive beneficial changes to the project design. It's not designed to stop a project from proceeding, but sometimes, at the end of the process, political decision-makers will decide that no matter what we do to change the project to reduce the adverse effects, those adverse effects are not justified in the circumstances.
It's always a political call as to whether the project proceeds or doesn't proceed. The environmental assessment process is simply designed to provide information to decision-makers. How they weigh that decision and what decision they make is ultimately the call of politicians.
Next is slide 4. I'll tell you a little bit about the Environmental Assessment Agency. The Environmental Assessment Agency is the policy centre for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, so it drives environmental assessment policy. It's one of three responsible authorities under the current act, which is known as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. We also conduct environmental assessments that are still going on under the former environmental assessment act. Those are known as comprehensive studies. In other words, we're administering two different pieces of legislation at the same time.
The agency is headquartered in Ottawa. We five regional offices located in Halifax, Quebec, Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver. We function as something known as the “crown consultation coordinator” for the government in the context of environmental assessments.
Environmental assessment happens very early in the decision-making process for a project, before the regulatory process. It's really the first chance that people have to look at what's being proposed and decide whether it's acceptable or not acceptable. It's the first opportunity the government has to engage with indigenous people about the potential impacts on them.
We coordinate the government's interrelationship with indigenous groups on behalf of all the departments that participate in the environmental assessment process.
We're a very small organization. We have a budget currently of about $32 million and we have about 250 employees spread across the country. If you'd like more information about our budget, there's a breakdown on slide 15 of the deck. You will notice that some of that money is temporary funding, which I hope will come to your attention.
I'll give you a bit of an overview of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, CEAA 2012. This piece of legislation focuses on projects that have greater potential for significant adverse environmental effects, particularly in areas of federal jurisdiction. The projects are identified through regulations with the cumbersome title of “regulations designating physical activities”, the designated projects list. Under the former act, we had a list called the projects list. It does create some confusion for people who have worked in environmental assessment for a while.
There are three parts to the projects list: a list that applies to projects assessed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, a list of projects assessed by the National Energy Board, and a list of projects that are the responsibility of the Environmental Assessment Agency. It's designed to have each of the three authorities and to be clear as to who would be handling what type of project.
When the agency is responsible for a project, we do a screening process at the outset, during which we consider whether an environmental assessment is required in the circumstances, so we're not doing an environmental assessment at that stage but asking whether we should be doing an environmental assessment. At that stage, very early in the process, we're looking at the potential effects that could occur through this project. A key consideration for us is whether there's some other process during which these effects could be examined and addressed, such as a regulatory process or a provincial environmental assessment process. All of those factors are taken into consideration when we determine whether an environmental assessment is required.
The CNSC and the NEB do not go through that process. If the project's on their list, they automatically do an environmental assessment.
There are two types of environmental assessments under CEAA 2012. One is conducted by the responsible authorities, so in our case the agency conducts the environmental assessment. The other type involves an independent panel that examines and conducts the environmental assessment and holds public hearings. That's a more formal process, but we try to make the process as informal as possible so that people feel comfortable coming forward and participating in it. We've had good success through that process.
There's also a list here of what we look at through the environmental assessment process.
The other thing I want to point out to you is that a number of other federal departments participate in our process by providing their science, advice, and expertise. Key among them is Environment Canada, but we get advice from DFO, from Transport Canada, from NRCan, etc.
Earlier I mentioned the importance of public participation and how there are several opportunities in the process for the public to learn about it. I've also talked about indigenous consultation, which is described in a little bit more detail on slide 8.
Slide 9 talks about the details of decision-making. Ultimately, it's either the Minister of the Environment or cabinet that makes those decisions.