Marla Orenstein, Director, Natural Resources Centre, Canada West Foundation | May 2023
Federal Impact Assessment Act
Measuring Progress on Projects and Timelines
An analysis of all projects submitted under the federal Impact Assessment Act (IAA) shows that three and a half years after the Act came into force, progress is slow and almost all projects are still in very early stages of assessment.
The IAA was intended to speed up a cumbersome application process for major infrastructure and resource projects, some of which were in the assessment process for up to ten years. However, a new report by the Canada West Foundation, Federal Impact Assessment Act Under Review: Measuring progress on projects and timelines, found that all projects progressing under assessment by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada are still in Phase 1 or 2 of the four-phase process.
How many days are in 180 days?
The report also looked at the time it took for projects to complete Phase 1 – Planning, the only phase about which there is sufficient data to analyze performance.
The IAA mandates that projects should proceed through Phase 1 – Planning in just 180 days. And while the data shows that the Agency consistently met its legislated limits of 180 days,
it’s only because “stopped-clock” days are not counted. With clock stoppages, it took projects an average of 332 days to complete Phase 1, with a range of 127 to 693 days. Around 80 per cent of projects required a clock stoppage, and this has gotten worse over time, not better. Clock stoppages occurred for reasons that included the pandemic, additional time for Indigenous consultation, and ballooning requirements for information from proponents.
While stopping the clock may sometimes be unavoidable, the consistent use of it indicates systemic problems that undermine the key objective of improved efficiency that the new process was supposed to achieve. The data also do not bode well for the likelihood of completing subsequent phases in a timely manner, as subsequent phases are more complex and have longer timelines than Phase 1.
Lagging application timelines negatively impact project proponents, investors, host communities, Indigenous groups and taxpayers footing the bill. But perhaps the greatest danger of current delays is that companies across Canada will hesitate to put any projects forward until they have evidence that the IAA works.
“The Canada West Foundation strongly supports an approval process that is transparent, robust, inclusive, fair and evidence-based—so that what gets built, gets built right. However, the process must also be timely and efficient to be effective. So far, the Phase 1 experience shows there is a long way
Marla Orenstein, report author and Director of the Natural Resources Centre at the Canada West Foundation
“We are most concerned with the conclusions of this report demonstrating what we know in practice to be true — that the more efficient and faster process promised under the federal Impact Assessment Act has not materialized. Enhancing prosperity for all Canadians means our regulatory processes must be improved because failure to do so has significant investment opportunity costs that will be felt for generations.”
Denise Mullen, Director, Environment, Sustainability and Indigenous Relations, Business Council of British Columbia
“In a global competition for investment, Canada’s project review process needs to be a strategic advantage for businesses. This report shows that more work is needed to provide businesses with the stability and predictability they need to invest in Canada.”
Mike Holden, Vice President, Policy & Chief Economist, Business Council of Alberta
POLICY BRIEF | What now? The ongoing saga of Bill C69, Marla Orenstein and Colleen Collins, May 2022
REPORT | Bill C-69: We can get this right, Martha Hall Findlay and Marla Orenstein, February 2019
POLICY BRIEF | What Now? The Fate of Projects: A review of outcomes from the federal EA approvals process, Marla Orenstein, November 2018
REPORT | Unstuck: Recommendations for reforming Canada’s regulatory process for energy projects, Martha Hall Findlay, Marla Orenstein, Colleen Collins and Naomi Christensen, May 2018