Milestones in the history of assessments

A section of the Interprovincial Pipeline being laid near Regina, Saskatchewan, 1954.
Photo credit: Julian Biggs / Source: National Film Board of Canada/Library and Archives Canada

Natural resources development

Large-scale development of natural resources began to open up Canada's hinterlands after the Second World War. At the time, little consideration was given to broad environmental consequences of large projects.

Over time, effects on the environment began to be more recognized, including to wildlife habitat, fish, air and water quality. Attention however was focused on finding solutions after the fact rather than on prevention.

Maurice F. Strong, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (right), shows United Nations Secretary-General, U Thant, a design for the official Conference poster. To the left is Mr. Keith Johnson, Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the Conference.
Source: Audiovisual Library of International Law

Environmental concerns

Public interest in environmental issues grew during the late 1960s. The United States' National Environmental Policy Act was introduced in 1969.

In 1972, the United Nations' Conference on the Environment in Stockholm was the first to make the environment a major issue. Canada made the study of environmental effects of projects a high priority.

Cover page of the report of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry: Volume 1
Source: Library and Archives Canada

Early origins of environmental assessment

In 1973, the Government of Canada established the Federal Environmental Assessment and Review Process. Development projects were screened "to ensure […] they do the least possible damage to our natural environment." Importantly, it led to the broadening of the types of projects that were subject to environmental assessments, including private projects with federal involvement. This was the genesis of the process we have today.

These early efforts were self-assessments and non-legislative, whereby federal departments developed and applied their own screening procedures to their own projects. Those with significant effects were sent to Environment Canada for review by the Environmental Assessment Panel, which later became the Federal Environmental Assessment Review Office (FEARO).

Another important event occurred shortly afterwards. Justice Thomas Berger led the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry from 1974 to 1977 and contributed to the evolution of thinking about environmental assessments. Justice Berger examined the broad social, economic and environmental impacts that a gas pipeline and an energy corridor would have in the Mackenzie Valley and the Western Arctic and set out the terms and conditions that should be imposed if a pipeline were built.

Examples of early review panels:

  • Eastern Arctic Offshore Drilling (1978) demonstrated importance of Aboriginal traditional knowledge
  • Arctic Pilot Project – Southern Terminals (1980) was the first joint federal-provincial review

FEARO hearings regarding a proposed uranium refinery in the Warman area, Saskatchewan, in 1980.
Photo credit: Jake Buhler / Source: Canadian Mennonite Magazine

Environmental Assessment and Review Process Guidelines Order

In 1984, the Government of Canada further strengthened the environmental assessment process when it created federal guidelines for assessments and formally appointed the Federal Environmental Assessment Review Office (FEARO) responsible for their administration.

Fighting Acid Rain, Maclean's, June 26, 1989

Toward a legislated process

In 1985, the Macdonald Commission recommended a statutory basis for assessments rather than an administrative one as public concern for the environment grew.

In 1987, the United Nation's Brundtland Commission released its report Our Common Future, which defined the concept of sustainable development and "explicitly identified environmental assessment as an invaluable operational tool for decision-making."

Cover page of the First annual report of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act

Introduced in 1990, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act received Royal Assent two years later. However, it did not come into force until 1995 because regulations essential to the Act's application had to be developed first.

If a proponent was a federal authority, granted financial assistance by the government or involved federal lands, an environmental assessment process was triggered. It was also triggered when a federal authority issued a permit or licence.

In late 1994, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency was established to replace FEARO. It also established its first online project registry as a means to facilitate access to information on federal assessments.

Cover page of the Strengthening Environmental Assessment for Canadians report.

Renewing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act

On December 14, 1999, the Minister of the Environment launched a five-year review of the provisions and operations of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Following wide consultations, the Minister tabled his report in Parliament on March 20, 2001. Entitled Strengthening Environmental Assessment for Canadians, this report was accompanied by the tabling on the same day of Bill C-19 to amend the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

The amendments took effect in 2003. They provided a greater measure of certainty, predictability and timeliness to all participants in the process, enhanced the quality of assessments, and ensured more meaningful public participation.

In July 2010, further amendments to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act made the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency responsible for most comprehensive studies.

Identifier of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012

On April 26, 2012, the Government of Canada introduced the Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act, a provision of which repealed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, replacing it with a new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012.

The Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act received Royal Assent on June 29, 2012, and came into force a few weeks later.

Only projects designated in regulations or by ministerial order would be considered for possible environmental assessment.

The Act added an effects-based trigger and related prohibition that would prevent proponents from doing an act or thing in connection with carrying out projects. The prohibition applied if the project could cause an environmental effect within federal jurisdiction, unless no assessment was required, or the proponent complied with the conditions included in a decision statement following an assessment.

Roundtable with Alberta Assembly of First Nations Chiefs in Calgary, Alberta.

Review of environmental and regulatory processes

In 2016, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced the establishment of a four-person Expert Panel to review existing laws and seek the input of Canadians on how to improve Canada's environmental and regulatory system.

In 2017, the Minister launched a 30-day public comment period following the release of the Expert Panel's report called Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada.

On February 8, 2018, the Minister tabled legislation in Parliament for the proposed new impact assessment regime in Canada.

Gif used in our first tweet as the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada representing the switch from Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's signature to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada's signature.

The Impact Assessment Act

On August 28, 2019, the new Impact Assessment Act, the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, and the Navigation Protection Act came into force.

The same day, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada replaced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

Going forward, federal impact assessments would look at both positive and negative environmental, economic, social and health impacts of potential projects.

The new Impact Assessment Agency of Canada now leads all project reviews and works in cooperation with other regulatory bodies, such as the new Canada Energy Regulator and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, to conduct integrated reviews of projects.

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