Privy Council Office- Building Canada’s Clean Future

Drawing on feedback and extensive reviews of existing federal regulatory and permitting processes, the federal government has initiated a new plan to reform Canada’s regulatory process at the federal and provincial levels in a way which also advances Canada’s clean future energy growth aspirations.

Introduction

These reforms aim to streamline the regulatory process by increasing cooperation between federal, provincial, and territorial jurisdictions. These new changes will speed up the approval process for new projects, without sacrificing the regulatory rigor which guarantees safety, equity, and environmental stewardship. This new plan therefore aims to ensure good investment projects move forward without delay, while at the same time supporting strong environmental protection and respecting Indigenous rights and interests.

In this spirit, the Ministerial Working Group on Regulatory Efficiency for Clean Growth Projects was established in 2023 to coordinate the Government of Canada’s efforts to grow the clean economy, create an efficient regulatory framework to support the development of clean growth projects, increase investor confidence, and positively contribute to broader government priorities, including net-zero commitments and advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. The goal is not to fundamentally change the regulatory system, but rather to find ways to improve it for the benefit of all Canadians. Below is an overview of the new plan developed by this working group, and a rundown of what its changes will entail.

The Clean Future Plan

Accelerating major clean growth projects and infrastructure development are keys to the future of Canada’s prosperity. Clean growth projects reduce environmental impacts and decrease costs associated with mitigating greenhouse gas emissions across all economic sectors. These projects create and support jobs, grow Canada’s economy, and protect the natural environment for future generations. The global race to net-zero presents enormous opportunities for Canadians and investors in Canada that is without precedent.

To remain competitive and grow the economy so all Canadians can succeed, the Government of Canada will create the conditions for industry to invest, while maintaining robust environmental standards and upholding Indigenous Peoples’ rights. They will work with provincial and territorial governments and Indigenous Peoples in a spirit of collaboration and innovation. To unlock this potential, Canada’s world-class federal regulatory system must evolve, and the PCO has developed an ambitious and achievable plan to get it there.

The Clean Future plan identifies concrete actions under five broad themes that, taken together, will help good projects move forward expeditiously while supporting strong environmental protection and respecting Indigenous rights and interests. 

Within these five themes, some of the most significant new actions include:

  • The creation of a new federal Permitting Coordinator, located within the Privy Council’s Clean Growth Office
  • Advancing Indigenous participation in major projects through an Indigenous Loan Guarantee Program, to provide Indigenous Peoples with more opportunities to benefit from these projects directly
  • Working to establish a Crown Consultation Coordinator to ensure meaningful Crown consultation with Indigenous Peoples on the issuance of federal authorizations, to improve efficiency and reduce consultation fatigue. The government will consult First Nations, Inuit, Métis, and Modern Treaty and Self-Government Indigenous partners on the design and role of this Crown Consultation Coordinator.
  • A new Federal Permitting Dashboard that reports on the status of clean growth projects that require federal decisions, to improve predictability for project proponents and increase the federal government’s transparency and accountability to Canadians.
  • New targets of five years to complete federal impact assessment and permitting processes, and two years or less for permitting of non-designated projects that do not require a federal impact assessment
  • Issuing a Cabinet Directive that sets out clear federal roles and responsibilities across departments with the objective of getting projects built in a timely and predictable manner.
  • To ensure we are prepared to assess and build clean growth projects in the North, we will discuss transformative changes to their unique project review processes, working with territorial and Indigenous governments who have a role in decision-making.

Canada’s Impact Assessment and Regulatory System Overview

Across most of Canada, the Impact Assessment Act guides federal impact assessment. An impact assessment is a planning and decision-making tool to assess the potential positive and negative effects of proposed projects. It considers environmental, social, health and economic factors within the scope of assessments, contributes to fostering sustainability and ensures respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Clean growth projects are subject to a regulatory environment that is shared with the federal government’s provincial and territorial partners, and all provinces and territories also have their own environmental assessment systems in place to assess impacts within their jurisdiction. In some cases, potential projects require an assessment under provincial regimes, or both the federal and provincial regimes.
Taken together, all these processes create a multi-faceted and sometimes complex regulatory landscape for clean growth projects in Canada, and there are opportunities to improve efficiency and collaboration.

Improving Canada’s world-class Regulatory System

The Government of Canada is taking action to improve federal impact assessment, regulatory and permitting processes to make them more efficient, transparent, and predictable without cutting corners. This will advance other national priorities such as: accelerating Canada’s most promising sectors and opportunities for a net-zero economy; producing the abundant clean energy needed to power a net-zero future; and advancing meaningful Indigenous engagement and participation.
This important work involves several federal departments and agencies with authorities over regulatory and permitting processes for projects: Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, the Canada Energy Regulator, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Budget 2024 included several new measures for Getting Major Projects Done, including the creation of a new Federal Permitting Coordinator within the Privy Council Office, setting new targets of five years or less to complete impact assessments and permitting processes, and developing a new Cabinet Directive for Clean Growth Projects. Budget 2024 also committed to facilitating Indigenous equity ownership in major projects through a new Indigenous Loan Guarantee Program. These activities are based on the work of the Ministerial Working Group on Regulatory Efficiency for Clean Growth Projects and lay the groundwork for more changes and new initiatives to come.

The measures presented in Budget 2024 focus on areas of federal responsibility. Recognizing that most projects are regulated by provinces and territories, we are actively finding new ways to collaborate with other orders of government to achieve our shared goal of getting good, clean growth projects built. For example, the government is committed to working collaboratively with provinces and territories to ensure that impact assessments are done as efficiently as possible towards the goal of “one project, one assessment”, while also maintaining best practices and honouring obligations and commitments to Indigenous Peoples.

Five Priority Areas

The Ministerial Working Group has identified five priority areas to modernize Canada’s regulatory system:

  1. Advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples
  2. Reducing duplication with provinces and territories
  3. Increasing impact assessment and permitting efficiency for clean growth proponents
  4. Improving Regulatory Efficiency North of 60
  5. Clean Growth Leadership by Federal Lifecycle Regulators

1. Advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples

Canada’s success is tied to the active participation of Indigenous Peoples, integrating diverse Indigenous perspectives through ongoing engagement, collaboration, and benefits-sharing. As clean growth projects are built, we must ensure that long-term benefits flow to Indigenous Peoples. We cannot lose sight of the importance of foundational programs for skills development and critical infrastructure in Indigenous communities. 

We support programs such as the Critical Minerals Infrastructure Fund, Wah-ila-toos and the Smart Renewables and Electrification Pathways Program, which support infrastructure and clean energy projects that can have cascading benefits for communities. Recognizing and integrating Indigenous knowledge into decision making, respecting Indigenous rights and interests, honouring commitments from treaties, and furthering economic opportunities for mutually beneficial partnerships leads to positive outcomes.


Strategic objective: Ensure that Indigenous Peoples are fully involved in clean growth projects from the start, including recognition of Indigenous leadership and decision-making in this domain.

2. Reducing duplication with provinces and territories

The Government of Canada is taking action to improve the efficiency of its own processes, but having a truly nimble and responsive regulatory system requires a “Team Canada” approach, with all orders of government working closely to advance shared economic and climate priorities. Where the federal government does have impact assessment or regulatory responsibilities for major clean growth projects, our goal is to work with provincial governments and Indigenous Peoples to create a single process that is simple, effective, and efficient for project proponents to navigate.

Provinces and territories are also working to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of their own processes. We will continue to look for opportunities to collaborate across jurisdictions using tools such as Ministerial Cooperation Agreements and forums such as the Energy and Mines Ministers’ Conference. We will continue learning from provincial expertise and legislative frameworks to assess the impacts of major clean growth projects, while ensuring the Constitutional duty to consult Indigenous Peoples is respected.

Strategic objective: Improve co-operation and co-ordination with provincial and territorial partners to reduce duplicative processes for proponents, Indigenous Peoples, and Canadians.

3. Increasing impact assessment and permitting efficiency for clean growth proponents

Many clean growth projects will require federal permitting decisions, such as those issued under the Fisheries Act (including the Metal and Diamond Mining Effluent Regulations), the Species at Risk Act, the Canadian Navigable Waters Act, the Explosives Act, the Disposal at Sea Regulations, and the Migratory Birds Regulations. While individual permits address different areas of federal jurisdiction, proponents may be asked to submit their project details multiple times to different regulators, and Indigenous Peoples may be consulted by multiple departments for the same project, creating duplication of effort. This duplication and the lack of co-ordination amongst federal regulators is a source of inefficiency in the current system, and an opportunity for immediate improvement.

We are recommending system-wide improvements that will increase departmental co-ordination, transparency and accountability. These enhancements will provide predictability for clean growth proponents, while offering benefits for all Canadians – for example, the new Federal Permitting Dashboard will provide a snapshot where anyone can check the status of a project as it moves through the regulatory process, from start to finish. By tracking and reporting on trends, the Federal Permitting Coordinator will be able to identify trends and any sticking points. These enhancements will allow us to address the unique challenges faced by different types of projects – such as critical minerals mining and processing, clean infrastructure projects and new energy projects – and focus on continuous improvement.

Strategic objective: Improve service delivery to project proponents and increase the co-ordination of federal permitting processes across the Government of Canada.

4. Improving Regulatory Efficiency North of 60

There is tremendous potential for clean growth projects North of 60 in Canada as we transition off diesel to clean energy sources and realize significant untapped mineral potential. However, the North also presents unique and discrete challenges to getting these projects built: the environment is vast and remote, and proponents face a high cost of business, complicated by supply chain uncertainty, sensitive environments, and lack of infrastructure, such as roads and transmission lines.

In much of the North, the Impact Assessment Act does not apply, and northern regulatory regimes are different by design; they implement commitments from modern treaties and involve co-management boards with members nominated or appointed by Indigenous, territorial, and federal governments. These boards lead inclusive and participatory impact assessment and permitting processes, and in some instances, have final decision-making authority. The legislation incorporates the use and value of Indigenous knowledge and culture in decision-making and provides for holistic approaches to resource management. These regimes are models of reconciliation in action and can help to obtain the social license needed to advance projects successfully.

Strategic objective: Build on the strength of unique Northern regulatory processes, while addressing known challenges.

5. Clean Growth Leadership by Federal Lifecycle Regulators

Lifecycle regulators like the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and Canada Energy Regulator have an important role to play in enabling clean growth projects. Both regulators operate independently and at arm’s length from the Government of Canada, and although they work in different sectors, they share many similarities – for example, both are responsible for licensing clean growth projects that do not require a federal impact assessment. Where a federal impact assessment is required, the regulators work with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada through an Integrated Review Panel process under the Impact Assessment Act. Through each of these regulatory processes, lifecycle regulators are taking action to support regulatory efficiency for clean growth projects within their respective sectors.

Several provinces, including Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick, have indicated significant interest in new large scale and small modular reactor deployment. The Government of Canada needs to ensure that processes for such deployments are efficient such that these provinces – and particularly those with more limited experience with nuclear power, can move forward in an environmentally sustainable manner but also within timeframes that meet the need for decarbonization of electricity grids. The recommendations in this section of this Action Plan are direct responses to the expressed desires and concerns of these provinces.

Strategic objective: Support regulatory efficiency for nuclear projects, a key sector in Canada’s clean growth future.

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