On Dec. 14, the federal government established a new advisory council to review progress made by the Impact Assessment Act (IAA).

The Minister’s Advisory Council on Impact Assessment (MINAC) will advise the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Jonathan Wilkinson, on the act’s effectiveness. This will include reporting on how efficient, transparent and predictable decision-making is under the act and how early potentially problematic issues can be identified under the assessment process. Some of the council members include Mining Association of Canada (MAC) President and CEO Pierre Gratton, Canadian Centre for the Purpose of the Corporation expert panel member Roxanna Benoit and Inuvialuit Corporate Group special advisor Kate Darling.

“[We] will be looking at how effective the new measures are in fostering sustainability, and supporting reconciliation and partnership with Indigenous peoples, while at the same time enhancing competitiveness and encouraging innovation,” explained MINAC Chair Lesley Griffiths. The council will meet four times a year and submit reports to the minister every two years.

According to Griffiths, the first report will address governance, the early planning stage for impact assessments and regional and strategic assessments. Future reports will review other requests and priority topics as chosen by the minister, as well as issues identified by council members.

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The announcement comes more than a year after the federal government first implemented the IAA as an overhaul of the previous environmental assessment system. The act established an Impact Assessment Agency to oversee all impact assessments for major resource and transportation projects, including mines and oil sands projects, and has a mandate focused on social, health and economic sustainability as well as environmental sustainability.

While some mining companies initially criticized Bill C-69 – which is how the act was referred to in parliament – MAC and Gratton publicly supported it. In June 2019, Gratton praised the new system, stating that it would consider the specific circumstances of projects and it would shorten the time it would take for projects to be approved.

After the federal government decided to review Teck Resources’ proposed Castle project in British Columbia under the IAA in August 2020, however, the MAC president was prompted to speak out. Stating that the decision fell below the IAA threshold, Gratton said “this decision certainly has the potential to lead to longer timelines at a time of unprecedented global economic uncertainty. While MAC was supportive and actively engaged in all stages of the review of the federal assessment processes that led to the new IAA… it is unfortunate that [this] has now given our industry reason to question whether it will be implemented in a fair and efficient manner.”

The council is set to submit its first report to the Minister by June 2021. The reports and the Minister’s response will be available to the public.