Raison d’être, mandate and role: who we are and what we do: 2019–2020 Departmental Results Report - Impact Assessment Agency of Canada

Raison d’être

The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (the Agency), formerly the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, delivers high-quality environmental and impact assessments that contribute to informed decision-making on major projects in support of sustainable development. Impact and environmental assessments are planning and decision-making tools: they assist with project design and ensure that appropriate measures are in place to mitigate impacts of major projects.

Mandate and role

The Impact Assessment Act (IAA) came into force on August 28, 2019, expanding the Agency’s mandate and responsibilities as the single Agency responsible for impact assessment and the Crown coordinator for Indigenous consultation on designated projects. Under the IAA, the Agency became responsible for assessing the positive and negative environmental, economic, social and health impacts of these projects.

The IAA repealed and replaced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012). It included transitional provisions for assessments that began under previous legislation.

Like CEAA 2012, the IAA and its accompanying regulations provide the legislative framework for assessments of major projects. Environmental assessments (EAs) and impact assessments (IAs) consider whether designated projects are likely to cause significant adverse environmental, economic, social, or health effects that fall within federal legislative authority. EAs and IAs inform government decision-making and support sustainable development. They do so by identifying opportunities to eliminate, reduce, or manage a project’s potential adverse effects before the project is undertaken.

Upon completion of an EA or IA, a decision statement is issued that states whether the proposed project is likely to cause significant adverse effects. It includes legally binding and enforceable conditions, consisting of mitigation measures and a follow-up program that the proponent is required to fulfil where a decision is made to allow the project to proceed. Under the IAA, the Agency continues to promote compliance with the relevant legislation, and takes action as required to ensure proponents comply with the legislative requirements and the conditions included in a decision statement.

The Agency advises the Minister of Environment and Climate Change in fulfilling their responsibilities under the relevant legislation. These responsibilities include exercising the power to designate a physical activity that is not prescribed by regulations, determining the significance of the effects of projects, and issuing decision statements.

Under CEAA 2012, assessments were conducted by one of three responsible authorities: the Agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, or the National Energy Board (now the Canada Energy Regulator). When the Agency was the responsible authority for an assessment, 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 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.

Under the IAA, the Agency became solely responsible for assessments of all designated projects. As was the case with CEAA 2012, the IAA and its accompanying regulations also provide the legislative framework for authorities (apart from the Agency) to complete determinations of adverse environmental effects of projects that are occurring on federal lands or outside Canada, and that are not designated projects under the IAA.

While retaining decision making authority, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change can refer the impact assessment of a designated project to an independent review panel if the Minister is of the opinion that it is in the public interest to do so. If the project is regulated under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act or the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, the Minister is required to refer an impact assessment to a review panel. Review panel reports are provided to the Minister, for consideration in decision-making.

Under both CEAA 2012 and the IAA, the Agency has coordinated with provinces and territories to identify the most efficient and effective means of supporting the objective of “one project, one assessment.” The Minister can approve the substitution of a federal assessment with the process of another jurisdiction, on request of the jurisdiction, if the Minister is of the opinion that it would be an appropriate substitute. Decision making, however, is not substituted.

Regional and strategic assessments are tools made available through the IAA to help address broader issues that could be challenging to address effectively in project impact assessments. Under the IAA, regional and strategic assessments support the Government of Canada’s strategy for addressing cumulative effects, and build from the previous CEAA 2012, which allowed the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to appoint a committee to conduct a regional study.

A key distinction between regional and strategic assessments is that regional assessments focus on issues specific to a defined geographic region, while a strategic assessment could apply at a national scale and would focus on Government of Canada policies, plans, programs or issues relevant to impact assessment.

Both Acts have recognized the importance of meaningful public participation and require that opportunities for public participation be provided through the assessment process, in accordance with legislation, regulations, policies and guidance established by the Agency. To support meaningful engagement, the Agency provides participant funding, manages an online public registry, and provides training and guidance on impact assessment. The Agency continues to engage on specific issues and assessments, and is working to implement the National Engagement and Outreach strategy. The purpose of the program is to listen to and learn from Canadians and Indigenous peoples, to continually adjust and improve the Agency’s processes, policies and programs.

Under CEAA 2012, the Agency acted as the Crown Consultation Coordinator for all Agency-led EAs. As noted previously, with the coming into force of the IAA, the Agency took on responsibility as the Crown coordinator for Indigenous consultation on designated projects. In this role, the Agency continues to lead Government of Canada consultations with Indigenous peoples to meet statutory requirements, and the Crown’s common law duty to consult. The Government of Canada takes a whole-of-government approach to Indigenous consultation in the context of EAs and IAs, 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.

Under the IAA, potential impacts on Indigenous peoples and on their rights must be considered in an impact assessment of a designated project. The Act also requires consideration of potential impacts on the rights of Indigenous peoples at key decision points in the impact assessment process—including when decisions are being made about whether an impact assessment is required and whether the effects of the project in federal jurisdiction are in the public interest.

Under both Acts, the Agency has also been responsible for leading 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 supported its President who, as the Federal Administrator, reviewed and determined 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.

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