Canada’s Environmental Reviews: Environmental Assessment

Environmental assessment (EA) is our key tool for making environmental decisions, such whether to approve projects like pipelines, dams and mines. It also has the potential to be an important tool that can help with the development of sustainable plans, programs and policies. But in Canada, this system is broken.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) – enacted as part of omnibus “budget” Bill C-38 – is not working for the environment, the public or industry. It restricts the quality and quantity of information necessary for making sound decisions, reviews far too few activities and shuts citizens out of decision-making, forcing them to take to the courts and the streets for a fair consideration of their concerns.

Replacing CEAA, 2012 with a visionary, sustainability-based next-generation environmental assessment law will help ensure a healthy, secure, more democratic and sustainable Canada.

The road to reform

In May 2016, environmental assessment experts from across Canada gathered at the Federal EA Reform Summit organized by West Coast Environmental Law to discuss, crystallize thinking, weigh options and seek to find common ground on solutions to key issues in federal EA in preparation for participation in the mandated review of EA processes.

In September 2016, an Expert Panel launched a public review of Canada’s environmental assessment processes. During its cross-country engagement tour, the Panel heard from Canadians about the urgent need for a stronger, fairer law governing how we make decisions about things like pipelines, dams, government policies and meeting our international commitments to address climate change.

Bill C-69 and Canada’s proposed Impact Assessment Act

After hearing feedback from Canadians, the federal government introduced Bill C-69, which contains new legislation to replace the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 and become the Impact Assessment Act.

Bill C-69 has many strong aspects that aim to reform our broken environmental assessment process. It gives the power back to Canadians to voice their concerns on major projects and offers a transparent outline of how these decisions will be made. Passing Bill C-69 will help to protect our environment, our economy and our communities for generations to come.

But right now, the Bill is at risk of being killed or seriously weakened by the Senate. An organized campaign out of Alberta is trying to mislead Canada's Senators by spreading wildly inaccurate claims about Bill C-69, in order for the oil and gas industry to continue to avoid federal oversight.

You can send a message of your support for Bill C-69 to Senators here.

Anti-C-69 rhetoric in the media has been misleading at best, at times blatantly false, and even outright sexist and racist. We’ve broken down the myths surrounding the bill and the facts Canadians need to hear about this important new law.

What is the gold standard of impact assessment?

From the outcomes of the Federal EA Reform Summit, West Coast Environmental Law developed 12 Pillars of Next Generation Environmental Assessment, recommending a set of integrated reforms to strengthen Canada’s environmental assessment framework.

These reforms include:

  • Sustainability as a core objective, to ensure the long-term health of the environment and communities
  • Meaningful public participation for everyone
  • Accessible information for the public, Indigenous groups and stakeholders
  • A climate test to ensure Canada stays on track to meet its climate goals
  • A framework for addressing the cumulative effects of industrial and other activities regionally
  • Collaborative decision-making with Indigenous governments, based on nation-to-nation relationships and the obligation to secure free, prior and informed consent
  • Rules and criteria to encourage transparency, accountability and credibility, and to ensure decisions are based on science, knowledge and public participation

To learn more about the summit, and the resulting 12 Pillars of Next Generation Environmental Assessment, click here.

Additional resources

Questions and Answers about Canada’s Proposed New Impact Assessment Act
(By West Coast Environmental Law Association, March 2018)
Based on detailed analysis by Staff Lawyer Anna Johnston, this Q+A provides answers to many common questions that have arisen about the proposed new Impact Assessment Act, and how it would change the way federal decisions are made on matters that affect the environment.

WCEL Submissions on Next Generation Environmental Assessment
(By West Coast Environmental Law Association, December 2016)
West Coast's submissions to the Expert Panel as part of the EA Review, outlining key issues and recommendations for reform.

Federal Environmental Assessment Reform Summit – Exec. Summary
(By West Coast Environmental Law Association, August 2016)
Outcomes from the May 2016 summit on EA reform, based on the collective wisdom of over 30 of Canada’s leading thinkers on the subject – including the 12 Pillars for Next Generation Environmental Assessment.

#LetsTalkEA Video Series
(By The Legitimacy Project – Building Better Environmental Laws, 2016)
An online video series by the Winnipeg-based Legitimacy Project that aims to understand, and where appropriate, provide solutions, to develop robust management frameworks and evidence-based environmental decisions.

Blogs on environmental assessment:

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