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The Canada West Foundation submits the following comments to the Expert Panel (“Panel”) on its report Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada. The Canada West Foundation is an evidence-based, non-partisan think tank based in Calgary, Alberta.

We appreciate the opportunity to provide input on efforts to reform federal project approval processes. In addition to the Expert Panel on federal environmental assessment processes, a similar effort is underway with the National Energy Board (“NEB”) Modernization Expert Panel. Both look at how the government evaluates major project proposals, and the federal government will need to consider the recommendations of each panel jointly. In April, we published our recommendations for reforming the NEB in Up Front: Modernizing the National Energy Board. Many of the recommendations made in our report apply to environmental assessment reform.

The Panel’s recommendations represent a dramatic shift away from the current environmental assessment regime. In many ways, the Panel accurately identifies some of the deficiencies hampering the current process. For example, the Panel understands that litigating broad policy issues such as climate change and the need for new infrastructure for each project proposal is inefficient and should be avoided. The Panel also understands that decisions on basic principles – especially on the issues cited above – need to be made before significant investments are committed by project investors.

Any environmental assessment reform needs to address these problems. But in this effort, we must also ensure that the process contributes to a competitive investment climate in Canada. Investors will be hesitant to dedicate their capital if Canada’s approval processes are uncertain. An ideal approval process would address major points of uncertainty upfront before significant investments are made.

Unfortunately, many of the Panel’s recommendations do the opposite. First, the Panel’s proposal infuses uncertainty throughout the process by placing value- based judgements into the hands of arm’s-length regulators and delaying political involvement to late in the assessment process. Second, the Panel’s focus on achieving consensus, while important, fails to articulate an efficient process for moving forward when consensus cannot be found. Finally, the Panel’s proposal raises concerns regarding federal jurisdiction, which would only inject more uncertainty into the process by increasing the probability of long drawn-out litigation.

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