Media Releases

Scientists find government justification of new environmental policy unfounded

April 2, 2013

TORONTO, ON – Recent efforts by the Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment to curb the time allowed for envi­ron­men­tal reviews over fears of adverse impact on eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment are mis­guid­ed and unnec­es­sary, accord­ing to research by sci­en­tists at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to. Instead, the fed­er­al government’s tin­ker­ing will only weak­en envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and not expe­dite eco­nom­ic growth.

The researchers found that most envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­to­ry reviews were already being com­plet­ed with­in the arbi­trary time­frames laid out in the 2012 leg­is­la­tion restrict­ing the reviews of new devel­op­ments.

“Even before the sig­nif­i­cant changes to fed­er­al envi­ron­men­tal over­sight intro­duced last year, the major­i­ty of sub­mis­sions reviewed under the Fish­eries Act in the pre­vi­ous 10 years were processed with­in one to two years,” says Dak de Ker­ck­hove, a PhD can­di­date in U of T’s Depart­ment of Ecol­o­gy and Evo­lu­tion­ary Biol­o­gy. “This is the same length of time pre­scribed by the new­ly revised Cana­di­an Envi­ron­men­tal Assess­ment Act.”

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has jus­ti­fied sweep­ing changes to the country’s envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion pol­i­cy by stat­ing that the review process was slow and inef­fi­cient, but pro­vid­ed no evi­dence apart from the tes­ti­mo­ny of a hand­ful of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the resource extrac­tion and ener­gy sec­tors.

So, de Ker­ck­hove and fac­ul­ty mem­bers Ken Minns and Bri­an Shuter exam­ined envi­ron­men­tal reviews from 2001 to 2011, com­par­ing the num­ber of requests for reviews in a par­tic­u­lar year with the num­ber of reviews com­plet­ed in the same fis­cal year. They found no evi­dence that reg­u­la­to­ry review in Cana­da was inef­fi­cient, even when reg­u­la­tors had an ongo­ing load of over 600 projects for review at any giv­en time.

“While it is pos­si­ble that a minor­i­ty of projects take longer to assess, we found no major back­logs in pro­cess­ing high­er loads of reviews,” says de Ker­ck­hove. “And in com­par­i­son with the few exam­ples avail­able from the Unit­ed States, Cana­da was much quick­er at review­ing projects.”

“Arbi­trary changes would there­fore not expe­dite the review of the major­i­ty of projects, and may instead rub­ber-stamp those few projects that actu­al­ly mer­it more in-depth reviews because of their poten­tial to cause greater envi­ron­men­tal dam­ages,” he adds.

The researchers focused on the Fish­eries Act for the study because it man­dates a high load of envi­ron­men­tal reviews, has been iden­ti­fied as a con­trib­u­tor to the poten­tial­ly long fed­er­al review times, and has had its leg­isla­tive pow­ers reduced recent­ly. The study, pub­lished in the Cana­di­an Jour­nal of Fish­eries and Aquat­ic Sci­ences, is the first inde­pen­dent and empir­i­cal esti­mate of envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­to­ry review times in Cana­da under the act.

“Assess­ments can be time­ly as long as reg­u­la­tors have the resources need­ed to do the job well,” says Minns. “But recent lay­offs in the fed­er­al sec­tor have dras­ti­cal­ly reduced the num­ber of review­ers, which has been iden­ti­fied as the cause of reg­u­la­to­ry delays for large scale projects such as the Enbridge Gate­way Pipeline.”

The researchers offer three rec­om­men­da­tions to replace the lat­est attempt at restict­ing envi­ron­men­tal over­sight:

  • devel­op a set of stan­dard­ized envi­ron­men­tal assess­ment meth­ods at the fed­er­al lev­el so as to pro­vide reg­u­la­tors with uni­form data for review;
  • sup­port efforts to stream­line the admin­is­tra­tion of reg­u­la­tion across dif­fer­ent juris­dic­tions and remove dupli­cat­ed review process­es among fed­er­al agen­cies with com­pet­ing inter­ests;
  • con­duct more empir­i­cal stud­ies on review times to antic­i­pate and mit­i­gate sources of com­mon delays dur­ing high eco­nom­ic activ­i­ty, as is done in the con­struc­tion sec­tor.

“Gov­ern­ments should rec­og­nize that envi­ron­men­tal over­sight is a nec­es­sary and valu­able com­po­nent of the approval process for devel­op­ment projects, and that alter­nate options exist for man­ag­ing the sub­mis­sion load aside from weak­en­ing envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion,” says de Ker­ck­hove.

“Everyone’s inter­ests should be prop­er­ly assessed when eco­nom­ic activ­i­ties over­lap with eco­log­i­cal and social con­cerns in nat­ur­al envi­ron­ments,” says Minns.

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Note to media: Vis­it for images and the research paper asso­ci­at­ed with this news release.

For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact:

Der­rick (Dak) T. de Ker­ck­hove
Depart­ment of Ecol­o­gy and Evo­lu­tion­ary Biol­o­gy
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
867–777-4680 (office)

Sean Bet­tam
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Fac­ul­ty of Arts & Sci­ence
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to

Jen­ny Ryan
Man­ag­er, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
Cana­di­an Sci­ence Pub­lish­ing (NRC Research Press)
613–949-8667 (office)
613–222-4630 (cell)

About the Cana­di­an Jour­nal of Fish­eries and Aquat­ic Sci­ences

Pub­lished since 1901 (under var­i­ous titles), the Cana­di­an Jour­nal of Fish­eries and Aquat­ic Sci­ences (CJFAS) is one of the world’s top fish­eries jour­nals and is the pri­ma­ry pub­lish­ing vehi­cle for the mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary field of aquat­ic sci­ences. It pub­lish­es per­spec­tives, dis­cus­sions, arti­cles, and rapid com­mu­ni­ca­tions, relat­ing to cur­rent research on cells, organ­isms, pop­u­la­tions, ecosys­tems, or process­es that affect aquat­ic sys­tems. The jour­nal seeks to ampli­fy, mod­i­fy, ques­tion, or redi­rect accu­mu­lat­ed knowl­edge in the field of fish­eries and aquat­ic sci­ence. CJFAS is pub­lished by Cana­di­an Sci­ence Pub­lish­ing and is part of the pres­ti­gious NRC Research Press jour­nal col­lec­tion.


Cana­di­an Sci­ence Pub­lish­ing (CSP) pub­lish­es the NRC Research Press jour­nals but is not affil­i­at­ed with the Nation­al Research Coun­cil of Cana­da (NRC). Papers pub­lished by CSP are peer-reviewed by experts in their field. The views of the authors in no way reflect the opin­ions of CSP or the NRC. Requests for com­men­tary about the con­tents of any study should be direct­ed to the authors.)