August 2019
Backgrounder
Protecting Ontario’s natural resources and biodiversity helps preserve economic development, recreation and wellness opportunities provided by the natural environment.

Federal and provincial legislation on environmental assessment lays out the framework and process for evaluating the potential environmental effects of a project. Over time, however, this process has become complex and burdensome. Increased timelines and assessment criteria for low-risk projects increase complexity and costs, while also delaying essential infrastructure maintenance and expansion works.

Recent amendments to the federal Fisheries Act through Bill C-68 and Impact Assessment Act, Canadian Energy Regulation Act and the Navigation Protection Act through Bill C-69 have brought some necessary changes to fast track municipal projects.

The amendments brought by Bill C-68 improve the federal environmental assessments process for municipal infrastructure projects like ports, hydro dams, nuclear power plants, and pipelines. They also exempt vital municipal works related to drains, culverts or bridges and other emergency works from federal environmental assessment. These changes recognize that early engagement with fixed timelines and a single review can help speed up the assessment process.

While amendments in Bill C-69 to streamline regulations related the Fisheries Act were positive, many municipal concerns regarding the exemption of low-risk works were overlooked. AMO will continue to advocate for the introduction of a new regulation to the Fisheries Act that exempts low-risk works which have very small impact on water bodies that are not important fish habitats.

Additionally, Ontario’s Bill 108, brought some positive changes to Ontario’s Environmental Assessment Act and increased the exemptions for low-risk activities within the Municipal Class Environmental Assessment framework. The province also exempted itself from a number of EA requirements related to transit, mines, parks and real estate.

The amendments also require a person making requesting an EA be “bumped up” to Ministerial level to be a resident of Ontario and demonstrate a direct adverse impact from the proposed project. Streamlining municipal EAs should help municipal governments to do low risk work faster to benefit their residents and businesses.

These changes reflect long-term requests from the municipal sector and municipal stakeholders. AMO has been involved in these discussions with the province and provided comments on a consultation paper on municipal class EA. AMO looks forward to more participation of the municipal sector as further information, regulations and guidance are developed.