2021–2022 Departmental Plan: Raison d’être, mandate and role: who we are and what we do

Raison d’être

The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada 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, facilitate Indigenous, public, and stakeholder participation, and ensure that appropriate measures are identified and implemented to mitigate adverse impacts of designated 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 lead federal organization responsible for conducting and administering assessments. Under the IAA, the Agency is responsible for assessing the positive and negative environmental, economic, social, health, and gender effects of designated projects. It is also the Crown coordinator for Indigenous consultation of designated projects under the IAA.

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

The Minister of Environment and Climate Change may 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 must refer an impact assessment to a review panel.

The Agency coordinates with provinces and territories to identify the most efficient and effective means of supporting the objective of “one project, one assessment”. The Minister may 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.

Regional and strategic assessments are tools made available through the IAA to help address broader issues that can be challenging to address effectively in project impact assessments. Under the IAA, these 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 would 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.

The IAA recognizes the importance of meaningful public participation and requires that opportunities be provided through the assessment process, in accordance with legislation and regulations, as well as through policies and guidance established by the Agency. The Agency continues to engage on specific issues and assessments, and is also implementing the National Outreach and Engagement program. The purpose is to listen to, and learn from Canadians and Indigenous peoples to adjust and improve the Agency’s processes, policies, and programs continually.

The Agency acts as the Crown Consultation Coordinator throughout the impact assessment process, leading Government of Canada consultations with Indigenous peoples to meet statutory requirements of the IAA and the Crown’s common law duty to consult and potentially accommodate.

Under the IAA, potential impacts on Indigenous peoples and on their rights are factors that must be considered in an impact assessment of a designated project. It also requires consideration of potential impacts on the rights of Indigenous peoples at key decision points in the impact assessment process, including whether an impact assessment is required and whether the effects of the project in federal jurisdiction are in the public interest.

The Agency is also 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 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.

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