While Canada’s Environmental Assessment (EA) process has long been established in the EA time continuum, it has been criticized for
numerous reasons, including inconsistencies with the regulatory process and lack of transparency and coordination between government
departments. As a result of a vote held by Federal Deputy Ministers, the Major Projects Management Office (MPMO) was established in 2007 under Natural Resources Canada. It is intended to be the “single point of entry for the federal regulation process” in an attempt to address various issues, specifically those mentioned above (Audit, 2010).
The MPMO is responsible for all major resource based projects, which represent 80 percent of all major projects in Canada. The MPMO’s jurisdiction excludes projects North of 60, which are governed under Indian and Northern Affairs Canada; the regulatory system in this area is currently under review (MPMO Questions, 2010). A major resource based project is defined as “a large resource project which is subject to a comprehensive study, a panel review, or a large or complex multi-jurisdictional screening, as defined under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act” (large projects are those with a large physical extent or extensive social and/or physical effects) (MPMO Questions, 2010). A project must pass four stages under the mandate of the MPMO. The Pre-Submission stage has no given time-frame and determines whether a project qualifies for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) (Audit, 2010). On a four month time-line during the Project Description/Agreement Phase, the roles and responsibilities of the MPMO office specific to the project is determined. The Environmental Assessment Phase is in accordance with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and is proposed to last approximately nine to 15 months depending on the project type. Lastly, legal and technical processes such as licenses and authorizations needed for project commencement are issued during a four month period during the Regulatory Decision-Making Phase (Audit, 2010).
Is the MPMO the answer to Canada’s EA issues, or is it just another ‘department’ that needs to be accommodated and operates independently from the others? This is difficult to assess as independent articles and available information on the subject is currently lacking. While this might be an indication in and of itself how effective the MPMO has been in terms of its mandate, it must be emphasized that it has only been fully operational since 2008 (Reports, 2008).
While the office is meant to improve the regulatory system, both project proponents and regulatory departments are not legally required to work with the MPMO (Audit, 2010). While this is the case, as of November 9, 2011, the MPMO has worked with 93 project proponents (MPMO Project Tracker, 2010). For a four year life-span and no requirement to utilize the MPMO, it has had considerable success in this respect. What is more of an issue is the repeated emphasis on reducing the regulatory time from an average of four years to two years, which might be why so many project proponents have worked with them (Audit, 2010; MPMO Questions, 2010). This is likely an initiative to be able to push more projects through, as the current MPMO projects are prospected to represent 100 billion dollars in future investment (MPMO Questions, 2010). It is unclear whether effective and comprehensive EIAs are being accomplished in such a short time-frame as the process is not entirely clear and transparent. The ‘MPMO Tracker’ permits certain government officials access to “read-only … information” which differs from that available to the public (Audit, 2010). The level of transparency of the MPMO extends to its budget and the allocation of the budget. The ‘FAQ’ page of the MPMO gives a budget of 30 million dollars over five years, while the Audit gives a budget of 20 million dollars over five years (Audit, 2010; MPMO Questions 2010). In addition to a 10 million dollar difference, neither site provides an outline to how the budget is being utilized and whether it is sufficient or lacking in order to carry out its mandate.
Whether the MPMO is able to accomplish its mandate and improve the Canadian EA process is unclear as of yet, although there is at least consensus that something needs to be done.
Audit 2010. Audit of the Major Projects Management Office Project AU1017. http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/audit/reports/2010-09/major- projects/1193, last access 8 November 2011.
Energy and Mines Ministers Regulatory Performance Improvement Working Group 2008. Regulatory Improvement
Initiatives Across Canada. http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca.minerals-metals/files/pdf/mms-smm/poli-poli/col-col/2008/regulat-eng.pdf, last accessed 8 November 2011.
The Major Projects Management Office 2010. MPMO Mandate. http://www.mpmo-bggp.gc.ca/mand-eng.php, last accessed 7 November 2011.
—. MPMO Questions and Answers. http://www.mpmo-bggp.gc.ca/faq-eng.php, last accessed 7 November 2011.
—. MPMO Tracker. http://www2.mpmo-bggp.gc.ca/MPTracker/projectlist-listedeprojet.aspx?lang=en, last accessed 9, November 2011.
—. Reports and Publications – Regulatory Improvement Initiatives Across Canada 2008. http://www.mpmo-bggp.gc.ca/documents/initiatives-eng.php, last accessed 10 November 2010.