2018-2019 Departmental Plan: Raison d’être, mandate and role: who we are and what we do

Raison d’être

Environmental assessment (EA) contributes to informed decision-making in support of sustainable development.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (the Agency) delivers high-quality EAs in support of government decisions about major projects.

Mandate and role

Environmental assessments inform government decision making and supports sustainable development by identifying opportunities to eliminate, reduce or control a project’s potential adverse impact on the environment before the project is undertaken, and by ensuring that mitigation measures are applied if a project is allowed to proceed.

CEAA 2012 and its accompanying regulations provide the legislative framework for environmental assessments. EAs consider whether “designated projects” are likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects that fall within federal legislative authority. Assessments are conducted by one of three responsible authorities: the Agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission or the National Energy Board. CEAA 2012 requires that opportunities for public participation be provided during environmental assessments and that participant funding and a public registry, including an Internet site, be established. CEAA 2012 also defines the roles and responsibilities of the Agency, the other responsible authorities, decision makers and project proponents Footnote 1.

When the Agency is the responsible authority, it determines whether an environmental assessment is required for a designated project and conducts the EA in accordance with the procedures and timelines set out in CEAA 2012. The Agency advises the Minister of Environment and Climate Change on establishing independent review panels to conduct environmental assessments for certain projects. When an environmental assessment is referred to a review panel, the Agency provides support to the Review Panel. The Agency is also responsible for managing the EAs of most projects that continue to be assessed under the former Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, in accordance with the transitional provisions of CEAA 2012.

The Agency advises the Minister of Environment and Climate Change in fulfilling her responsibilities under CEAA 2012, including determining the significance of the effects of projects and issuing EA decision statements at the conclusion of the environmental assessment process.

For designated projects for which it is the responsible authority, the Agency promotes compliance with CEAA 2012, and takes action as required to ensure proponents comply with the legislation’s requirements. The Agency coordinates with provinces and territories to deliver timely and efficient environmental assessments, and advises the Minister of Environment and Climate Change on requests to substitute the CEAA 2012 process with the EA process of another jurisdiction. Additionally, the Agency—on its own and in collaboration with partners—conducts research to support high-quality environmental assessments and develops effective EA policies and practices.

The Government of Canada takes a whole-of-government approach to Indigenous consultation in the context of environmental assessments, to ensure that Indigenous groups are adequately consulted and, where appropriate, accommodated when the Crown (federal government) contemplates actions that may adversely impact potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights. The Agency serves as the Crown consultation coordinator to integrate the Government of Canada’s Indigenous consultation activities into the environmental assessment process, for EAs conducted by a review panel and for EAs conducted by the Agency.

The Agency leads federal project review activities under the environmental and social protection regimes set out in sections 22 and 23 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and in the Northeastern Quebec Agreement. The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and the Northeastern Quebec Agreement are constitutionally protected comprehensive land claim agreements. The Agency supports its President who, as the Federal Administrator, must review and determine whether projects of a federal nature proposed under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement or Northeastern Quebec Agreement should proceed and, if so, under which conditions.

The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals establishes a self-assessment process for departments and agencies to conduct a strategic environmental assessment of a policy, plan, or program proposal. The Agency supports the Minister of Environment and Climate Change in promoting the application of the Directive, and provides federal authorities with advice, training and guidance upon request.

For more general information about the Agency, see the “Supplementary information” section of this report. For more information on the Agency’s organizational mandate letter commitments, see the Minister’s mandate letter. Endnote i

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