Canada’s Environmental Reviews: Environmental Assessment


Environmental assessment (EA) is our key tool for making environmental decisions, such as pipeline, dam and mine approvals, and the development of plans, programs and policies that affect the environment. But in Canada, this system is broken.

The new 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 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.

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. It is important that the Expert Panel hear from Canadians about how Canada needs a stronger, fairer law governing how we make decisions about things like pipelines, dams, government policies and meeting our Paris Agreement commitments to address climate change.

Key points

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


  • September 19, 2016 – Expert Panel launched its public review of environmental assessment processes, beginning its cross-country tour with public hearings and workshops in Saskatoon, SK
  • December 15, 2016 – Final in-person engagement session, in Nanaimo, BC
  • December 23, 2016 – Closing date for written and online submissions
  • March 31, 2017 – Deadline for the Expert Panel to submit its report and recommendations to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change
  • Mid-2017 – Once the Expert Panel has completed its work, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change will consider the recommendations in the Panel's report and identify next steps to improve federal environmental assessment processes

For the full schedule of public workshops and engagement sessions, visit the Expert Panel's website:


Ways to participate

There are a number of different ways to have your say. There will be opportunities to participate both in person and online, and the Panel is accepting written submissions both via email and snail-mail. Each of the different types of participation options is described below, with tips on what the Panel is looking for and how you might want to frame your submissions.

In-person events

This fall, the Panel is travelling to communities across Canada to hold public and Indigenous engagement sessions to hear about what works and what doesn’t work in federal EA. The public may attend the Indigenous sessions, although priority for participation may be given to Indigenous peoples. In most communities, the Indigenous engagement sessions are the day after the public sessions.

The Panel is visiting communities in every province except PEI and will be conducting its final sessions in British Columbia in December. You can find the full calendar of sessions and information on how to register on the EA Review Panel’s website.

1. Public presentations: These are formal hearing-style sessions held during the day, where presenters have 15 minutes before the Panel: ten to present and five for questions from the Panel. You do not need to register in advance (you may do so the day of) but spots are limited so you are encouraged to register ASAP. Observers are welcome and do not have to register.

You may use visual aids such as PowerPoint presentations and images; if you submit them in advance (usually the day before is fine) the Panel’s secretariat will have them loaded and ready to go when it’s your turn to present. They provide a computer and screen, so all you need to do is email your visuals the day before, or bring them on a flash drive.

It is a good idea to submit any materials you have prepared to the Panel in advance. The Panelists are making an effort to read submissions as they roll in and may be more informed and ask better questions if they’ve had an opportunity to review your materials first.

The Panel is especially keen to hear solutions to issues raised. If possible, frame your presentation in four parts: 1) what’s not working, 2) how can it be fixed, 3) specific ways the solution can be implemented in law or policy, and 4) examples of where it has been done well elsewhere (in other jurisdictions, or in other assessments in Canada). If you do not have specific solutions to recommend, that’s okay - it is just as important that the Panel hear Canadians’ stories about their experience with environmental assessments (or lack thereof), and how their communities and environment have been affected by development proposals.

2. Indigenous presentations: These are conducted much like the public presentations. In some sessions where there were fewer Indigenous presenters, the Panel has been more generous with time than with the public presenters, allowing presenters to speak for longer

3. Public workshops: The workshops are facilitated roundtable-style sessions, usually 3 1/2 hours long and held in the evening. Participants are usually seated around tables, which can be quite mixed. They entail presentations from the Panel secretariat about federal EA and two 30-minute roundtable discussions about questions provided in workbooks. One person at each table takes notes, and at the end of the 30 minutes the table representatives share the main discussion points with the room. The Panel members circulate among the tables throughout the discussions, and the Panel secretariat takes notes. Written notes are collected afterwards for the Panel to review.

4. Indigenous open dialogues: The dialogue sessions are generally unstructured circle sessions that run for 2-3 hours, with participants and Panel members seated in an open circle (no table between them). They may also have brainstorming exercises, such as posters on the wall with questions, and sticky notes for participants to provide responses. For more information, the Panel has prepared this Indigenous Open Dialogue Sessions Guide to help participants better understand and engage.

Online and written opportunities

Written submissions may be emailed to or submitted on the EA Review Panel website.

There is also an online questionnaire (called a Choicebook), which takes approximately 30 minutes to fill out. All written submissions are available on the Panel website.

We have put together this letter-writing tool to help you submit comments to the Panel, with suggested language you may want to include in your letter.

Click here to submit your comments to the Panel today.

The Panel has also offered webinars for remote participants who are not able to attend the in-person events: if you are interested in a webinar, contact the Secretariat via the email address provided above.

Additional resources


 West Coast's submissions to the Expert Panel as part of the EA Review, outlining key issues and recommendations for reform.

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.

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.

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