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The Resurrection of Federal Environmental Assessment?

Over two years ago, CELA published an “in memoriam” blog to lament the untimely demise of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 1992 (“CEAA”), which had been repealed and replaced in 2012 with much weaker legislation.

The CELA blog ended with the hope that “a new and improved federal EA regime will soon be resurrected from the ashes.” Fortunately, it now appears that this plea may be answered in the coming months.

During the 2015 federal election campaign, the Liberal platform included an express commitment to “immediately review Canada’s environmental assessment processes and introduce new, fair processes” which will:

  • “restore robust oversight and thorough environmental assessments;”
  • “ensure that decisions are based on science, facts and evidence, and serve the public’s interest;”
  • “provide ways for Canadians to express their views and opportunities for experts to meaningfully participate;” and
  • “end the practice of having federal Ministers interfere in the environmental assessment process.”

After the Liberals won the election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent a mandate letter to the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change that directed her to “immediately review” the EA process in order to “regain public trust” and to implement the above-noted commitments.

To date, no details have been released by federal officials on when the CEAA review will be commenced (or completed), or what the scope of the review will include, or how First Nations, environmental groups, stakeholders and the public at large will be able to meaningfully participate in the review process.

However, CELA and a number of other groups across Canada recently submitted a joint letter to the Minister to propose that:

  • the CEAA review should be led by an independent advisory panel with administrative support from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency;
  • the structure of the panel’s review of the CEAA should be co-designed with representatives of indigenous governments and organizations; and
  • the panel’s mandate for the CEAA review should be broad in nature, and should include consideration of the substantive challenges within the current EA regime, such as: sustainability; cumulative effects; alternatives analysis; climate change; follow-up programs; environmental monitoring; strategic and regional EA; engagement of civil society; and relationships between federal and provincial EA programs.

CELA looks forward to the commencement of the CEAA review in 2016, and to its completion as soon as possible, so that Parliament can enact updated legislation which establishes a federal EA process that is effective, equitable and enforceable.