On Feb. 8, 2018, the Canadian federal government announced it would scrap the existing National Energy Board and as CBC reported it would “overhaul environmental assessment process for major projects” with something new!


We reached out to Ottawa energy policy consultant, Robert Lyman, for comment. Robert Lyman spent 27 years as a public servant; 10 years as a diplomat. He is a frequent contributor to Friends of Science with commentaries and reports. (See links at the bottom of the page for past topics relevant to this issue.)

He said:

As far as I can tell from a quick reading, the proposed legislations exactly fits the proposals in the previous working paper. In other words, none of the comments that I and, I assume, others made had the slightest effect in changing the path the Liberals are on.

Consequently, all the criticisms that I posted on the Friends of Science blog previously still stand. 

The “sustainable development” assessment structure clearly leads and prejudges the changes intended for the National Energy Board, so there will be no surprises when those are finally announced.

The process henceforth will be hopelessly politicized, complicated and prolonged. The considerations of “indigenous traditional knowledge” will rank with empirical science, consideration of social and gender impacts will rank with environmental effects, the indigenous groups will be granted a stranglehold on the process, and the burden on project sponsor to consult and document (e.g. for the “open science and data platform”) will add significantly to their costs. 

The most bizarre element of the new regime, in my view, is the “Early Planning Review” stage during which proponents will essentially be tasked to present and defend a project concept to the level at which it can be assessed in public consultations and bureaucratic analysis in terms of its consistency with “sustainable development” goals. There is a long list of these goals (i.e. environment, biodiversity, species at risk, cumulative risks, health, social, gender, indigenous interests and rights, economic, etc.) 

Notably, from the Friends of Science climate science perspective, climate change considerations will be “systematically integrated throughout the assessment process”. Environment and Climate Change Canada “would conduct a strategic assessment of climate change… to ensure Canada’s action on climate change is reinforced through the impact assessment process”. This is another way of saying that, if the project increases net GHG emissions, it will be deemed inconsistent with Canada’s climate change goals and deemed unacceptable in principle. 

It is not clear why a project sponsor would spend the hundreds of millions of dollars developing the plans, specifications and proposed siting of a project, only to get to this “approval in principle” stage which it would run the gauntlet of public, indigenous and bureaucratic review so Cabinet could then make a political decision to shut everything down.

There is a clear signal to investors. Canada does not want resource development and will make it as difficult as possible for you to get approvals.


National Energy Board (NEB) – A Report on the Implications of Proposed Changes


Climate Change Policy and Confederation


Reflections on the Proposed Changes in Canadian Environmental Assessment


In Defence of Science – A Commentary on the Use of Aboriginal “Traditional Knowledge” in Regulation


Environmental and Regulatory Reviews