Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this important debate on our government's proposed new impact assessment legislation, Bill C-69, an act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, which was tabled in this House last week by my colleague, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada.
I have spent about two decades of my life as a community activist alongside my colleagues in the Concerned Citizens of Tyendinaga and Environs and the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, fighting a megadump expansion that threatened the health of our community's water. Ensuring our communities have strong environmental protections is one of my driving forces, so when I saw the weakening of federal environmental protections under the previous Harper government, I was compelled to act.
I was pleased to see our government launch a comprehensive review in June 2016 to restore the confidence of Canadians in federal environmental assessment processes, restore lost protections for our fisheries and waterways, and modernize the National Energy Board. Now, after more than 14 months of extensive engagement with indigenous leaders, provincial and territorial leaders, businesses, environmental groups, and Canadians, our government has introduced proposed legislation that reflects the values and priorities Canadians expressed throughout this process.
The proposed impact assessment act lays out a vision for a modern impact assessment and regulatory system that recognizes that the environment and the economy must work together to build us a sustainable future. It represents an important shift in the way major projects will be assessed in Canada.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency would now become the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. It would be the single authority mandated to lead assessments and coordinate the government's consultations with indigenous peoples on all matters related to project assessments. This new structure would bring about greater process integrity and ensure consistency in how major projects are assessed.
The new agency would work closely with life-cycle regulators on major energy transmission, transportation, nuclear, and offshore oil and gas projects. The new Canadian energy regulator, which would replace the National Energy Board, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, and offshore boards, would provide expertise for assessments of projects related to their mandates, such as major energy transmission, nuclear, and offshore oil and gas projects. The regulatory requirements would be considered within an integrated impact assessment process.
The proposed changes seek to broaden project reviews from environmental assessments to impact assessments, with a focus on sustainability. This means assessments would consider a broader range of potential impacts to understand how a proposed project could affect not just the environment but also social and health aspects, indigenous peoples, jobs, and the economy over the longer term.
An impact assessment is a dynamic process. It brings together a wide range of perspectives, including different cultural and historical references, often diverging economic interests, and varying points of view on how to manage our environment, our health, and our society.
Too often in the past, indigenous peoples and the general public were invited to engage in environmental reviews very late in the process. The Concerned Citizens of Tyendinaga and Environs and other community groups across the country know all too well the battle it can take to have our voices heard. As another way to rebuild faith in environmental reviews, the proposed impact assessment act introduces a new early planning and engagement phase for assessments. This would allow Canadians to have their say right from the outset and thereby influence the design of proposed projects. This early planning would also provide the basis for co-operating with other jurisdictions and ensuring early consultation with indigenous groups.
Regulatory certainty would be achieved by making the system more efficient and predictable, giving companies the clarity and predictability they need with legislated timelines, with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada leading all reviews in collaboration with provinces, indigenous peoples, and life cycle regulators, where applicable, to support the objective of one project, one assessment. It is one thing to streamline the federal review process, but we also recognize other jurisdictions have their own assessments. This can be confusing for proponents and the public, creating duplication and delays.
The proposed impact assessment act would introduce a new era of collaboration in the review of projects. It would advance the principle of “one project, one assessment” to reduce duplication and increase co-operation with other jurisdictions. It would also create alignment within federal departments that contribute to different steps of the assessment and regulatory phases.
Through this proposed legislation, our government has demonstrated its commitment to restoring robust, thorough reviews of major projects while working closely with provinces to avoid duplication. Another element of the proposed legislation, reconciliation with indigenous peoples, is one of the main elements of the design of the new system. The proposed changes seek to build new partnerships based on recognition of indigenous rights up front. This includes early engagement and participation at every stage.
The legislation would create new space for indigenous jurisdictions to enter into agreements with the federal government to exercise powers under the act, including the potential to conduct assessments. Going forward, it would be mandatory to consider and protect indigenous traditional knowledge alongside science and other evidence. The proposed impact assessment act would provide a practical plan that will rebuild trust, drive innovation, encourage the use of cleaner technologies, and promote a healthy and clean environment.
With these significant improvements to our assessment system, Canadians will be confident that good projects can move forward in a way that protects our environment and supports reconciliation with indigenous peoples, while creating jobs and strengthening our economy. I believe strongly that the proposed impact assessment act would achieve a unique balance. We are making sure that good projects can be built sustainably while creating jobs and economic opportunities for Canadians.
I have reached out to conservation groups in my riding about this bill, and I have heard from organizations like Quinte Conservation and Lower Trent Conservation that the proposed changes are a positive step in the environmental assessment process. This proposed legislation represents a significant milestone, but we still have a lot of work to do to advance this bill and develop supporting policies. We will do so by continuing to engage Canadians, as we have done to date. The result will be an impact assessment process that demonstrates we can bring resources to market while considering our environment, our health, and our society, and that we can do it in a sustainable way.
I have been very fortunate to be part of both the environment committee and the indigenous affairs committee, and I have to say that this bill is very much informed by the importance of both areas to ensure that we get it right. The economy and the environment can go hand in hand, but so can indigenous rights. It is so important to recognize the principles of indigenous rights throughout all of the bills that we bring forward in the House to ensure that indigenous peoples are recognized and that they can move toward self-determination. That can only be accomplished by ensuring that they participate in every aspect of our environmental and economic development. I am very proud to be part of a government that recognizes the importance of including indigenous peoples in every aspect of legislation moving forward, whether it is environmental or otherwise.
In conclusion, the proposed legislation reflects values that are important to Canadians, including early, inclusive, and meaningful public engagement; nation-to-nation, Inuit-crown, and government-to-government partnerships with indigenous peoples; timely decisions based on the best available science and indigenous traditional knowledge; and sustainability for present and future generations.