Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I certainly appreciate the opportunity to speak today about this important piece of legislation, and I really appreciate the hard work of all the committee members.
The legislation we introduced earlier this year aims to restore public trust in how the federal government makes decisions about such major projects as mines, pipelines, and hydro dams. These better rules are designed to protect our environment, improve investor confidence, strengthen our economy, and create good middle-class jobs. They will also make the Canadian energy and resource sectors more competitive.
With these better rules, we are working to build on Canada's strong economic growth and historic job numbers.
Together with my ministerial colleagues, I have been working very hard to deliver this government's promise to regain public trust in environmental assessment and regulatory processes to help get resources to market in a sustainable way and introduce new, fair processes. As a first step, in January 2016 we introduced an interim approach and principles that will guide decision-making for projects that were already in the system.
These interim principles clearly show the following.
First, decisions will be based on scientific and probative data as well as on sound traditional indigenous knowledge.
Second, we are going to listen to the opinion of Canadians and of their communities.
Third, indigenous people will be consulted in a significant and respectful way.
Fourth, decisions will consider the effects of the various projects on the climate.
Fifth, no project that has already been assessed will have to start the process from scratch.
Our government did not stop at interim principles. In June 2016, we launched a comprehensive process to review existing laws and seek Canadians' input on how to improve our environmental and regulatory system. This review was guided by two expert panels, two parliamentary committees, as well as extensive consultations with indigenous peoples, industry, provinces and territories, and the public.
The expert panel established in August 2016 and tasked with examining environmental assessment processes, travelled for four months to consult Canadians across the country. After that, the committee submitted to me a report that included a summary of the comments received and the way in which they had been examined, together with recommendations to improve federal environmental assessment processes.
The government then held a public comment period on that report and engaged with stakeholders and indigenous peoples. Over 1,000 online comments and 160 submissions were received, and over 100 in-person meetings were held with thousands of Canadians from across the country.
We then took all the information and input that we heard and released a discussion paper that outlined the government's proposed path forward, based on the feedback from the expert report and the submissions provided. This too was the subject of extensive consultations, both online and in person.
On February 8, I introduced Bill C-69, which is the culmination of all that input. The proposed legislation responds to what we heard from provinces and territories, indigenous peoples, industry stakeholders, environmental groups, and the public, addressing what matters to Canadians. Bill C-69 will introduce a modern assessment process that protects the environment, supports reconciliation with indigenous peoples, attracts investment, and ensures that good projects go ahead in a timely way to create new jobs and economic opportunities.
First, assessments will consider not just environmental impacts of projects, but also the social, health, and economic impacts they may cause. When making decisions, we will consider whether companies are using the best available technologies and practices to reduce impacts on the environment, and a gender-based analysis will ensure any potential impacts unique to women, men, or gender-diverse people are identified and addressed.
Under the proposed framework, decisions will be based on whether a project with adverse effects is in the public interest. A public interest determination will be guided by several factors, including the project's contribution to sustainability, impacts on indigenous peoples and their rights, and mitigation measures that are proposed to reduce the project's impacts on Canada's ability to meet its environmental obligations and climate change commitments.
Proactive strategic and regional assessments will allow the potential cumulative effects of development projects to be evaluated. In addition, the decision-making process will be more enlightened.
We also heard that project reviews need to be predictable, provide regulatory certainty, and work across multiple jurisdictions. The new legislation proposes to have one agency, the impact assessment agency of Canada, lead all major project reviews and coordinate with indigenous peoples. One project, one assessment, is a guiding principle to drive co-operative reviews and avoid duplication.
New tools are available for the impact assessment agency to work collaboratively with jurisdictions and with life-cycle regulators such as the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the proposed Canadian energy regulator to ensure this principle is met.
A new early planning phase will engage jurisdictions, potentially affected indigenous peoples and communities, to ensure that key issues are raised early so that project proponents know at the outset what is expected from them.
Thanks to this early planning and participation stage, we will also be able to encourage the public on the front lines to participate in the dialogue. That stage will also allow us to simplify the process, something that is positive for everyone.
For the first time, there will now be a legislated timeline for decision-making for assessment. These timelines will ultimately shorten project assessments, allowing proponents to spend more time investing in project development to build the Canadian economy.
Indigenous peoples are leaders in conservation. They've long been stewards of the environment and have rights related to the management of land, waters, and wildlife. They have knowledge of the land that spans generations. We will advance Canada's commitment to reconciliation and get to better project decisions by recognizing indigenous rights and working in partnership from the start.
We will require traditional indigenous knowledge to be considered, as well as available scientific and other data.
Indigenous governing bodies will have more opportunities to exercise their powers and responsibilities under the Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act.
In addition, we will increase funding to the Participant Funding Program to support indigenous participation and to strengthen capacities linked to impact assessments.
We also heard that Canadians want to ensure that assessments are grounded in science and that the process is transparent and accessible. The bill proposes a number of measures to address these issues. Greater public participation opportunities will be provided, including during the early planning phase and during the impact assessment process. All Canadians will be assured the ability to participate.
An online registry will provide access to information on specific environmental assessments of projects, including the scientific data used in the impact assessment.
Summaries of the facts supporting the assessments, written in plain language, will be made available in order to ensure strong participation.
Assessments and decisions will be informed by the best available science, evidence, and indigenous traditional knowledge. Scientific evidence will be tested, and where findings are uncertain, third party reviews will be available.
The bill also proposes to increase transparency by requiring that decisions, with detailed reasons, are made public so that Canadians can better understand the rationale behind the decisions.
As you know, the proposed impact assessment act was informed by extensive consultation, and I am committed to continuing the dialogue.
Since the bill was tabled in the House of Commons, I have met with stakeholders from industry and from environmental groups, with representatives of indigenous peoples, and with my provincial counterparts in order to obtain their reactions on what has been proposed in the bill.
The better rules we announced this year reflect what we have heard overwhelmingly and consistently from Canadians over the past year and a half.
They want a modern environmental and regulatory system that protects the environment, supports reconciliation with indigenous peoples, attracts investment, and ensures that good projects can go ahead, which creates good, middle-class jobs and grows our economy. As we always say, the environment and the economy go together.
Thank you, Madam Chair, for the opportunity to speak to the committee today. I would like to thank the committee for the collaborative approach that you have taken in your work around this table to date, and I look forward to the outcome of your review of this important piece of legislation.