Federal Review of Environmental Assessment Processes

Environmental impact assessment is a planning tool used by governments to consider the economic, social, and environmental impacts of proposed development before it is carried out. Canada’s federal environmental impact assessment policies date back to the early 1970s, and the first legislated environmental impact assessment regime in Canada was enacted in 1992. Federal legislation and policy were significantly revised in 2012 with the enactment of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012). In August 2016, the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change established an expert panel to again review federal environmental impact assessment policy and procedures. The panel was given a mandate to travel across Canada to hear from interested persons on the strengths and weaknesses of the framework administered under CEAA 2012.

The Clinic was retained by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) to advise and assist on appearing before the panel in Calgary to present concerns on how environmental assessments were being conducted in national parks and other federal protected terrestrial and marine areas under CEAA 2012. A particular concern for CPAWS was that CEAA 2012 removed the legislated requirement for Parks Canada to conduct transparent environmental assessments for projects in national parks. The Clinic undertook legal research and made access to information requests to assist CPAWS in preparing a written submission to the panel. In November 2016, the Clinic appeared before the panel as legal counsel for CPAWS to make a submission on deficiencies with environmental assessment under CEAA 2012 and recommendations for legislative reform to enhance transparency and legal accountability in the federal environmental assessment process.

The substance of the expert panel’s report informed the repeal by the federal government of CEAA 2012 and, in its place, the enactment of the Impact Assessment Act (Canada) in 2019. The Impact Assessment Act restored a higher measure of public participation in federal impact assessment and broader scope of coverage for transparent legislated impact assessment concerning development in Canada’s national parks.

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