Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Summit on Environment Assessment Makeover Points to Early, Repeated Consultation

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Summit on Environment Assessment Makeover Points to Early, Repeated Consultation

Article excerpt

Summit says consult early, often on resources

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OTTAWA - The Liberal government doesn't need to reinvent the wheel as it seeks to overhaul the system for assessing and approving major resource projects, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was told this week.

Canada, in fact, has pioneered some world-leading examples of how to combine environmental, social, cultural and economic impacts under a single project assessment, experts said at a three-day summit that wrapped up Tuesday.

The problem is that those best examples don't look much like the current system, which is mired in public cynicism.

Another problem is that one of the pioneering examples cited -- Justice Thomas Berger's lengthy 1970s inquiry into a gas pipeline in the Mackenzie Valley of the Northwest Territories -- ended up effectively scuttling the proposed line to the Beaufort Sea.

"Environmental assessment and getting it right, is tough," McKenna told the 32 summit participants, drawn from business, academia, non-governmental and indigenous groups.

"There are many interests and angles that you have to weigh and have to balance."

The summit, organized by West Coast Environmental Law and hosted by the University of Ottawa, will end up submitting a report to the government on suggested parameters for an effective resource project review system. It is just one cog in the Liberal government's effort to meet its pledge to remake environmental assessments.

And it came as former Liberal deputy prime minister John Manley was publicly cautioning the government against "consultation constipation."

"Reviews are fine, (but) I hate them," Manley told a global affairs symposium Monday evening. "I've always thought they are a method of delay and you can have consultation constipation and just not get to actually governing."

However, when it comes to getting massive resource projects approved, consultation early and often is the key, the summit participants told McKenna. …

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