2018-2019 Departmental Results Report: Raison d'être, mandate and role: who we are and what we do

Raison d’être

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

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency delivered high-quality EAs in support of government decisions about major projects.

Mandate and role

EAs informed government decision making and supported sustainable development by identifying opportunities to eliminate, reduce or manage a project’s potential adverse impact on the environment before the project was undertaken, and by ensuring that mitigation measures were applied where a decision was made to allow a project to proceed.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) and its accompanying regulations provided the legislative framework for EAs. EAs considered whether “designated projects” were likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects that fell within federal legislative authority. Assessments were conducted by one of three responsible authorities: the Agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission or the National Energy Board. CEAA 2012 required 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 defined the roles and responsibilities of the Agency, the other responsible authorities, decision makers and project proponentsFootnote 1.

When the Agency was the responsible authority, it determined whether an EA was required for a designated project and conducted the EA in accordance with the procedures and timelines set out in CEAA 2012. The Agency advised the Minister of Environment and Climate Change on establishing independent review panels to conduct EAs for certain projects. When an EA was referred to a review panel, the Agency provided support to the review panel. The Agency was also responsible for managing the EAs of most projects that continued to be assessed under the former Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, in accordance with the transitional provisions of CEAA 2012.

The Agency advised the Minister of Environment and Climate Change in fulfilling her responsibilities under CEAA 2012, including exercising her power to designate a physical activity that was not prescribed by regulations, determining the significance of the effects of projects and issuing EA decision statements with legally binding and enforceable conditions at the conclusion of the EA process.

For designated projects for which it is the responsible authority, the Agency promoted compliance with CEAA 2012, and took action as required to ensure proponents complied with the legislation’s requirements and the conditions included in a decision statement. Upon completion of an EA, a decision statement is issued that states whether the proposed project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. It includes conditions, consisting of mitigation measures and a follow-up program that the proponent must fulfil where a decision was made to allow the project to proceed.

The Agency coordinated with provinces and territories to deliver timely and efficient EAs, and advised 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—independently and in collaboration with partners—conducted research to support high-quality EAs and developed effective EA policies and practices.

The Government of Canada took a whole-of-government approach to Indigenous consultation in the context of EAs, to ensure that Indigenous groups were adequately consulted and, where appropriate, accommodated when the Crown (federal government) contemplated actions that may adversely impact potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights. The Agency served as the Crown consultation coordinator to integrate the Government of Canada’s Indigenous consultation activities into the EA process, for EAs conducted by a review panel and for EAs for which the Agency was responsible.

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 federal departments and agencies to conduct a strategic EA 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 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 letterFootnote [i].

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