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News // The minefield of Brownfield development regulation in Canada

Date // 9th April 2014

The minefield of Brownfield development regulation in Canada

Canada is a vast and diverse land. There is plenty of space but, the climate and frequency of trade with the USA has resulted in the majority of the population being focused within 100 km of the USA/Canada border. The population is then further concentrated in major cities such as Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Winnipeg, the Greater Toronto Area and Montreal. The challenge for brownfield development in Canada is, therefore, two-fold

  • Economics – where does it make sense to develop brownfield sites when land is cheap?
  • Regulatory – how to deal with various provincial/territorial and federal rules, regulations and idiosyncrasies? 

For the economical side, Inogen Associate, FRANZ assists its clients in Canada with careful site selection and ground-truths the reality of a property asking price against the required site assessment/ risk assessment/remediation costs.  Sometimes the economics do not add up and a purchase proceeds no further. This is a common problem in smaller towns and more rural areas across the country. On other occasions, FRANZ is able to help its clients negotiate a suitably discounted price or other risk management option to enable the development to proceed.

For the regulatory aspects, FRANZ uses regional experts to negotiate clients around the intricacies of a provincial regulatory system. What works in Ontario might not work in British Columbia (BC), even if it seems logical to do so!  Site assessment requirements and clean-up standards vary across the country, as does the rigour required for site assessment and risk assessment (e.g. Ontario and BC both use peer reviewers for risk assessment closure of sites but, Ontario imposes strict and inflexible requirements on reporting content whereas BC relies on their rostered professional to ensure the reporting completed meets the required standard of care). Another interesting nuance to consider is that the Province of Quebec essentially does not allow risk assessment of sites, especially for hydrocarbons. Add to this the very different requirements for Federally-owned sites (that may become the remit of the province/territory post sale/development) and First Nations land, and you are left with a very complicated and varied system.

Brownfield development in Canada is definitely evolving. There is a keen interest at all levels of government to see unproductive and blighted land brought back into better use. There are some incentives available at Federal and Municipal levels to help facilitate the site assessment/remediation process. Good examples of these incentive programmes include the numerous "Community Improvement Plans"

( in Ontario and Green Municipal Fund (

However, to get to the stage where development can occur, and planning approvals are obtained, the standard Phase 1 ESA, Phase 2 ESA and risk assessment/remediation, as applicable, need to be completed. The details of these activities vary by region/stakeholder but, the same basic concepts apply, albeit with different levels of oversight, sensitivity (e.g. Ontario standards for carcinogenic compounds are set at the 1 in a million risk level, the rest of the country/federally uses 1 in 100,000) and stakeholder consultation.

- Tony Windsor
FRANZ Environmental Inc

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