Strategic Environmental Assessment: Public Statements of Environmental Effects
The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals (Cabinet Directive) requires a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) when:
- the proposal is submitted to an individual minister or Cabinet for approval; and
- implementation of the proposal may result in important environmental effects, either positive or negative
When an SEA is conducted, the Cabinet Directive requires a public statement of the environmental effects of the proposal. The following guidance is intended to assist federal departments and agencies in meeting this requirement. It may complement SEA guidance, tools and procedures specific to a department or agency. Policy analysts should contact their SEA coordinator or office responsible for implementing the Cabinet Directive to determine the procedures of their department or agency.
What is a public statement?
The purpose of the public statement is to demonstrate that the environmental effects of the approved policy, plan or program have been appropriately considered during proposal development and decision making.
The Guidelines for the Implementation of the Cabinet Directive (Guidelines) define a public statement of environmental effects as:
“A statement that is made at the time that the policy, plan or program is announced, indicating the likely environmental effects. The statement may be a component of a general announcement by the government respecting the policy, plan or program or it may be a stand-alone document that explains the results of the strategic environmental assessment.”
In the analysis of the proposal, a preliminary scan helps to determine whether an SEA is warranted. To enhance transparency of the decision-making process, departments may also choose to prepare a public statement of their preliminary scans, if appropriate, stating that no important environmental effects were identified.
What should be included in a public statement?
The Cabinet Directive and Guidelines are not prescriptive about the format or level of detail required in a public statement. This allows departments and agencies flexibility in developing approaches that are appropriate to the nature of their business and to particular cases.
In the Guidelines, there are key principles for preparing public statements:
- “. . . departments and agencies shall prepare a public statement of environmental effects, including impacts on the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy's goals and targets”
- “The purpose of the statement is to demonstrate that environmental factors have been integrated into the decision-making process.”
With these principles in mind, it is expected that the public statement provides a brief summary of the SEA results including:
- the nature and scope of the environmental effects (positive and/or negative);
- impacts, positive or negative, on achievement of the goals or targets of the FSDS; and
- the measures the federal government employed to enhance the sustainability of the proposal including mitigation, enhancement, monitoring, and/or follow-up.
The public statement need not be a detailed separate report but rather a statement integrated into the announcement that indicates the environmental implications of the proposal. For example:
The proposed initiative could result in the increased use of [chemicals X and Y] in the [X sector]. If large concentrations are released into the aquatic environment, it could have an important negative environmental effect. The likelihood of this situation is rare but to mitigate this impact, in cooperation with other jurisdictions, the federal government is developing guidelines on the use of these chemicals and implementing training programs and information sessions for potential user groups. Monitoring and follow-up will be implemented through existing industry and provincial water quality monitoring programs.
The incentive program for development activities in [industry x] could result in important negative environmental effects on [species X habitat]. As the site-specific effects will be considered and mitigated through the project review under the Impact Assessment Act, the SEA focused on developing mitigation measures that guide industry to avoid areas of high environmental risk and a code of practice to guide industry standards. Monitoring and follow-up will be implemented at the project-level and will include indicators that provide trend information on the impact to [species X habitat] throughout Canada.
How should Cabinet confidences be dealt with?
Policy, plan or program proposals submitted to Cabinet for decision are subject to the rules governing Cabinet confidence and secrecy. This includes, but is not limited to, Memoranda to Cabinet, Treasury Board submissions, discussion papers, and draft legislation. Questions surrounding the level of detail from the SEA that can be publicly reported should be directed to the sponsoring department’s legal services and/or the Privy Council Office Analyst for the department. For further information on materials that would be considered Cabinet confidences please visit the Treasury Board Secretariat website.
To ensure that the information included in the public statement does not reveal any Cabinet confidences, a separate document describing the results of the SEA could be appended to the proposal for Cabinet to approve its release to the public.
What is required when posting public statements?
The public statement is expected to be posted when the policy, plan, or program initiative is approved or announced. Although it is the responsibility of individual departments and agencies to decide the best method of making the public statement available, it should be incorporated into existing reporting mechanisms to the fullest possible extent such as news releases, backgrounders, websites, Canada Gazette (e.g. for Regulatory Impact Assessment Statements), or any other communications materials.
For proposals with a high risk of causing adverse environmental effects or serious public concerns, departments and agencies may, in addition to any public statement, choose to release a public document that discusses the environmental effect in detail.
To ensure that public statements of environmental effects are easily and centrally accessible to the public, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (the Agency) provides a web page to house links for public statements of SEAs. Analysts preparing public statements may consult the Agency’s website for examples of existing public statements. Departments and agencies can provide the link to their public statements to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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