Madam Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to express my support for Bill C-88 and explain why I approved it at second reading stage. Before I go on, I want to tell you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for St. Catharines.
I would like to use my time to draw the attention of my hon. colleagues to the authorization of regional studies. Although this may be a lesser-known aspect of Bill C-88, regional studies should have a significant and positive impact on the review process at the core of the regulatory regime governing resource development in Canada's north.
The proposed changes in the bill before us would allow the Minister of Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs and Internal Trade to establish committees to conduct regional studies. These studies could take very diverse forms. They could, for example, be as narrow as a documentary analysis or as broad as in-depth research to create databases on a body of water or a land mass. The relevant text of the proposed bill is purposely broad in order to allow for a variety of scopes and activities.
One of the reasons why the bill uses non-specific language is that science and scientific knowledge are expanding and becoming increasingly sophisticated. Today, it is impossible to accurately predict what kind of regional study will be most beneficial ten or twenty years from now. That said, regional studies can generate valuable environmental and socio-economic information on the potential impacts of a proposed project. This would definitely be information that the Northwest Territories' regulatory boards would find useful.
Although the proposed bill does not specify the form, scope, or subject of the studies, it clearly sets out what these studies and committees are not. Regional studies are not a substitute for the regulatory boards, for example, or any of the roles these boards play in the regulatory regime.
The bill also states that a committee has no other role than what is set out in its terms of reference. Asking a committee to undertake a study essentially means hiring an expert or consultant to prepare a report. Under this bill, regional studies would be subject to the general principles of the integrated co-management regulatory regime authorized by the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.
The value of including regional studies in environmental impact assessments has long been recognized. Under subsection 16(1), proponents had to consider the cumulative environmental effects of their projects, while section 16(2) emphasized the role and value of regional studies, outside the scope of the act, in considering cumulative effects. Parliament repealed the act in 2012, replacing it with a new version that explicitly authorizes the minister of the environment to establish committees to conduct regional studies. Regional studies also feature prominently in a 2009 publication issued by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.
The publication, which is entitled “Regional Strategic Environmental Assessment in Canada: Principles and Guidelines”, lists the benefits of regional studies. These include analyzing, identifying and managing cumulative environmental effects at a more appropriate, regional scale.
According to this publication, regional studies can also contribute to the discussion of alternative sustainable future scenarios and key environmental goals and objectives for a region.
Studies save time and resources by avoiding environmental effects early on, rather than mitigating cumulative effects much further down the line. Regional studies establish regional environmental targets, limits and thresholds against which to monitor and evaluate subsequent development and management actions. In this way, studies support effective project-based performance assessment. Lastly, the publication suggests that regional studies can provide an early indication of public interest in regional environmental issues.
It is clear that the value of regional studies to environmental impact assessments is increasingly being recognized. Many regulatory regimes in Canada use them as a way to collect environmental data and analyze environmental effects. Besides the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, provisions authorizing regional studies also appear in section 5 of Saskatchewan's Environmental Assessment Act and section 112 of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act.
Many other jurisdictions in Canada incorporate regional studies into impact assessments, even though those studies are not explicitly mentioned in the legislative measure in question. The simple truth is that regional studies are becoming increasingly popular because they are useful. They can provide accurate, up-to-date, relevant data. They are versatile and can be adapted to specific, practical circumstances. For example, a regional study may analyze potential impacts from the perspective of an ecosystem or region as a whole, rather than solely from the perspective of a particular project. Regional studies can provide necessary baseline data from which to analyze the impact of future development projects. These studies can also help to determine environmental thresholds. Ultimately, the reliable data and analyses generated by regional studies help board members make well-informed decisions.
By authorizing regional studies, Bill C-88 will make this valuable tool available to regulatory boards in the Northwest Territories. The studies can be used to support project reviews and potentially speed up environmental assessments and environmental impact reviews.
Our government is committed to maintaining strong legislation that protects Canada's rich natural environment, respects the rights and interests of indigenous peoples and supports Canada's resilient natural resources sector. Bill C-88 makes a number of significant improvements to the system.
In addition to authorizing the use of regional studies, the bill restores the regional land and water boards and creates a law enforcement system comprising inspections and revised penalties. Other changes will allow the boards to request extensions of their members' terms and enact regulations governing how governments and proponents consult indigenous peoples during the process to issue licences and permits and the environmental impact assessment process under the law. All these improvements will strengthen northerners' ability to maximize the benefits of resource projects while minimizing their negative impact.
In closing, the bill before us deserves the support of the House. I encourage my hon. colleagues to join me in supporting Bill C-88 at second reading.