Forty years ago, Quebec passed the Act respecting land use planning and development, which created a land use planning regime. This region-based system enabled various government authorities to coordinate their actions while upholding their respective responsibilities and the choices made by local stakeholders.
This was a minor revolution at the time. Responsibility for land use planning was transferred from the provincial Office de planification et de développement du Québec to the RCMs (regional county municipalities) and individual municipalities. The goal was to bring land-use decision-making authority closer to the people.
Social licence is critical to successful project development, and municipalities — as the closest government to the issue — are essential to achieving this goal.
That is why it is stunning that municipal governments are not better integrated into the federal environmental assessment process. For instance, how can proponents try to advance their projects without gaining the support of affected municipalities?
TransCanada’s ability to raise hackles at the municipal level with its Energy East project is probably the clearest example of this problem.
As the Senate considers Bill C-69, which would restore a credible environmental assessment process in Canada, municipalities and their umbrella organization, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, ask that we formalize the involvement of municipal authorities in the project impact assessment system.
More specifically, “formalizing” the involvement of municipalities means the following:
The idea is not to give municipal governments a veto over projects under federal jurisdiction. Instead, the goal is to involve municipalities to ensure that the impact a project has on affected communities are properly measured and to take advantage of their expertise in their areas of activity.
Municipalities understand the need to balance economic activity and environmental protection. They strive to achieve this balance every day. Because they are so close to their constituents, they know that economic development is impossible without community backing.
Proponents trying to build a social consensus around their projects, civil society groups worried about the impacts and the government authority attempting to measure social licence all have an interest in quickly bringing municipalities into the environmental and social impact assessment process.
By formalizing municipalities’ involvement, we would make the process more effective, rigorous and predictable and improve dialogue. As a result, I am introducing amendments to strengthen the Impact Assessment Act.
Canadians are right to expect that all three levels of government will work together to fulfil their respective responsibilities in a climate of mutual respect to achieve the goal of sustainable development.
Senator Éric Forest represents the Gulf region of Quebec.
This article appeared in the February 6, 2019 edition of Le Soleil (in French only).