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HomeNewsGlobal NewsOntario streamlining complex approval processes will protect world-class environmental standards

Ontario streamlining complex approval processes will protect world-class environmental standards

BRAMPTON, Ontario – As the Ontario government is investing nearly $98 billion over the next ten years to build new roads, highways and public transit, including Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass, it is streamlining and simplifying the complex 50-year-old environmental assessment (EA) process to make it easier and faster to build the infrastructure needed to support the province’s growing population.

“As Ontario grows at record speed, it’s never been more important to build new roads, highways, public transit and homes, so we can get drivers out of bumper-to-bumper traffic and bring the dream of home ownership into reach for more people,” said Andrea Khanjin, minister of the environment, conservation and parks. “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. We’re doing so while protecting strong environmental oversight and ensuring meaningful consultations before projects can move forward.”

After several months of consultations, one of the changes to the EA process is moving to a project list approach, which will list the types of infrastructure projects that still require the highest level of environmental assessment such as large landfills and electricity generation facilities. The project list approach is a shift from the previous focus on project proponents to what the project is and its potential for environmental effects. Using a project list approach will bring Ontario in line with other similar jurisdictions, including the federal government, Quebec and British Columbia.

These changes, which come into effect on February 22, 2024, will help get highways, rail and electricity transmission lines built up to four years sooner by allowing them to follow a streamlined EA process that will save time and money while maintaining environmental safeguards. The projects that are being moved to streamlined processes continue to have requirements to identify and mitigate environmental impacts and for consultation, including Indigenous consultation, prior to implementation.

For example, the comprehensive EA process for the East-West Tie Transmission Project that runs from Wawa to Lakehead in Northern Ontario took more than five years to complete. With these changes, a similar project could follow a streamlined process and be completed within two years, while still undergoing a mandatory consultation process and continued strong environmental oversight. Some of the time savings are a result of the streamlined processes not requiring a Terms of Reference (up to two years) for the project as the streamlined process already sets out the requirements.

The Ontario government is also beginning consultation, including with municipal partners, on a new streamlined process for certain municipal water, shoreline and sewage system projects. This new process would help accelerate project planning by limiting the process to six months from 18 months or more. These time changes could be achieved by providing a regulated timeline, whereas under the current process there is no time limit.

An example of a municipal project that would be able to go through this proposed process is building a new large wastewater treatment plant. To build this, the municipal class EA process can take up to two years or more. The proposed process could see the EA process completed in as little as six months.

The government is also considering a minor change to the Environmental Assessment Act that would make it clearer for municipalities, provincial ministries and agencies that expropriation is one of the ways property can be acquired for a project before the EA process is completed.

This measure is part of the upcoming Get It Done Act, that will kick off the spring sitting of the legislature on February 20, 2024. The Act, if passed, would make it faster to build and easier to save money.

Quick facts

  • The environmental assessment process provides important environmental oversight by assessing environmental impacts and showing how impacts can be avoided or reduced.
  • Streamlined environmental assessment processes already exist for projects like transit, which is being used successfully by Metrolinx to help get projects done faster.
  • Consultations were held in 2020, 2021 and 2023 on the planned changes to move Ontario’s environmental assessment program to a project list approach. The ministry sought feedback on what projects should be subject to a comprehensive environmental assessment, the highest level of assessment. The ministry then consulted on draft regulations setting out the projects proposed to be subject to a comprehensive EA and related actions required to move to a project list approach.
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