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Sussex Overview: Ontario Modernizing the Environmental Assessment Process

Published on
March 13, 2023

On March 10, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) proposed changes to the Environmental Assessment (EA) process in Ontario, with the aim of streamlining and modernizing the process to better reflect best practices, mitigate burdensome requirements and reduce costs. As such, the MECP aims to support streamlined project development in the province, while maintaining environmental oversight requirements.

The MECP is seeking feedback by May 9, 2023. The changes are detailed below:

1. Evaluating municipal class environmental assessment requirements for infrastructure projects

The MECP is proposing to evaluate the need for the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) requirements for certain municipal infrastructure projects that are currently required to follow the process under the Municipal Class EA.

Specifically, Ontario is seeking feedback on changes to timelines for completing low-risk infrastructure projects, such as municipal roadways, water and wastewater projects. To achieve this, the Municipal Class EA could be revoked, and the Act and regulations would be amended as necessary. Projects that have already begun the process would be able to withdraw if certain notification requirements are met. Higher-risk municipal infrastructure projects, such as municipal expressways, waste, transit, electricity, and waterfront projects are not part of this proposal.

In addition, Ontario is proposing to evaluate the need for the Act requirements to avoid duplication of legislative, planning processes and authorization requirements which municipalities undergo outside of the Municipal Class EA process. In doing so, Ontario aims to reduce red tape and allow municipalities to proceed sooner with infrastructure projects.

2. Moving to a project list approach under the Environmental Assessment Act

Building on proposed changes in November 2021, Ontario has revised its proposal for updating regulations and other measures that move toward a project-list approach for projects that will require a comprehensive EA under the EAA. A project list approach means that projects requiring a comprehensive EA will be listed in the regulation rather than being based mainly on who is proposing the project.

The revised proposal involves moving all transportation (highways and rail) and electricity transmission projects to a streamlined, rather than comprehensive, EA process. Ontario continues to propose comprehensive EA requirements for waterfront projects, however, revisions include expanding the transition provisions which allow certain projects to be exempt from comprehensive EA requirements.

The revised proposal does not include any changes to previously proposed comprehensive EA requirements for waste projects, waterpower facilities or large oil electricity generation facilities.  

The regulatory posting notes that these proposed changes are intended to better align Ontario with other jurisdictions across Canada, including the federal government.

3. Improving timelines for comprehensive environmental assessments

The MECP posted a bulletin regarding its plan to move forward with several initiatives to make it easier to complete a comprehensive EA.

To improve the quality of submissions and ensure the process is as efficient as possible, all while maintaining adequate environmental oversight, the government intends to improve timelines for comprehensive EAs which presently take up to six years to complete, which delays the completion of major infrastructure projects in the province.

Ontario intends to reduce timelines through improvements in four areas:

  • Sector-based terms of reference: Proponents of projects that require comprehensive EAs must develop and consult on terms of reference, known as the workplan. The bulletin notes that establishing standard, templated, and sector-based terms of reference for recurring projects would reduce the development and review process for these documents by up to 1.5 years.
  • Guidance for proponents: The MECP plans to update its guidance materials to ensure proponents submit a complete EA from the outset.
  • Updating the codes of practice: Ontario aims to update codes of practice related to consultation and development and review of comprehensive EAs to ensure they reflect current best practices and legislative requirements.
  • Improving internal review processes: To improve the internal government review process for comprehensive EAs, Ontario will work with partner ministries and other government review team members to develop a Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) to provide clear requirements for meeting regulated timelines and outline key areas of focus.

Happy to help.

Sussex continues to be engaged with the Ontario government on the Environmental Assessment process. We would be happy to assist clients in providing feedback in response to government consultations, as well as navigate the evolving environmental regulatory landscape in the province and across Canada.

Christina Marciano, Vice President and Lead, Environment Practice

Joyce Mankarios, Director, Ontario Government Relations

Teodora Durca, Research Associate, Environment Practice

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