Ontario continues march towards streamlining EAs, introducing project list approach

Excavator in the construction of a highway
Ministry officials said a new project list approach would initially include highways, rail, and electricity transmission lines, all of which could be built up to four years faster through a streamlined EA process. Photo Credit: Enrique del Barrio, stock.adobe.com

Ontario leaders have begun to shift the province to a project list approach for environmental assessments as they kick off the spring sitting of the Legislature. 

The project list approach is part of the Conservative government’s upcoming Get It Done Act, which if passed, will mirror aspects of environmental assessments in Quebec and British Columbia that list types of infrastructure projects that would require the highest level of environmental assessment (EA). 

The project list approach is a shift away from the 50-year-old EA focus on project proponents, and a move towards highlighting the nature of the project and its potential risks to the environment, according to an announcement from the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks. 

Ministry officials said a new project list approach would initially include highways, rail, and electricity transmission lines, all of which could be built up to four years faster through a streamlined EA process. 

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Other projects, however, could undergo streamlined EAs as well, as Ontario begins consultations to include municipal water, shoreline and sewage system projects.   

Consultations were held in 2020, 2021 and 2023 on the planned changes to move Ontario’s environmental assessment program to a project list approach.  

“Our government is supporting municipal partners by streamlining and simplifying complex environmental assessment processes to get shovels in the ground and finish major projects faster,” announced Ontario Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, Andrea Khanjin. “We’re doing so while protecting strong environmental oversight and ensuring meaningful consultations before projects can move forward.” 

In an announcement about streamlining Ontario’s environmental assessment process, officials illustrate the example of the comprehensive EA process for the East-West Tie Transmission Project that runs from Wawa to Lakehead in northern Ontario. What took five years to assess under the former process, could be completed within two years under a streamlined process, officials estimated.  

The ministry also noted that expropriation may soon be one of the ways that property can be acquired for a project before the EA process is completed. It is a point that comes as the Conservative government looks to invest nearly $98 billion over the next 10 years to expand public transit and build new roadways such as Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass. 

When it comes to creating a streamlined EA process for certain municipal water projects, provincial officials said it could accelerate project planning by limiting the process to six months instead of 18 months or longer. 

“These time changes could be achieved by providing a regulated timeline, whereas under the current process there is no time limit,” the ministry announced.  

Approving a new large wastewater treatment plant, for instance, could be completed in just six months as opposed to the municipal class EA process that can currently take up to two years or more.  

Steven Crombie, director of government and public relations for the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association, said that modernizing EAs for municipal infrastructure will help reduce the duplication of approvals necessary for the installation of low-risk infrastructure that is a required part of new housing developments. 

“Streamlining this approvals process will save time and resources for individuals, businesses, and government agencies without compromising any environmental outcomes,” Crombie said in a statement. “By simplifying regulations and reducing administrative burdens, Ontario is making it easier for businesses to operate and invest in growth.” 

Preliminary consultation on evaluating Environmental Assessment Act requirements for municipal infrastructure projects was completed in spring 2023. 

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