Fact Sheet – Strategic Assessment under the Impact Assessment Act
What is a strategic assessment?
Strategic assessments under the Impact Assessment Act (the Act) can assess:
- any Government of Canada policy, plan or program – proposed or existing – that is relevant to conducting impact assessments; or
- any issue that is relevant for impact assessments of designated projects or classes of designated projects.
The Minister of Environment and Climate Change (the Minister) may establish a committee or authorize the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (Agency) to conduct a strategic assessment. For details on authorities and requirements, see sections 95 to 103 of the Act.
Each strategic assessment:
- follows terms of reference set out by the Minister for the assessment
- requires transparency and meaningful opportunities for participation
- considers options for addressing issues through proposed actions
- e.g. ways to develop, refine or implement relevant policies, plans or programs.
Impact assessments of designated projects must consider relevant strategic assessments.
What can a strategic assessment do?
Strategic assessments for common issues in impact assessment
Issues may arise across impact assessments, but they may be difficult to address at the project level or go beyond what a single proponent can manage. Strategic assessments may be used to address these common issues, such as recurring challenges related to managing a particular effect of a project.
In this case, a strategic assessment could help:
- identify how federal policies, plans or programs could be changed or created to address the issue outside of impact assessment processes; or
- identify actions to take in impact assessments to address the issue.
Strategic assessments for broader policy issues relevant to impact assessment
In these cases, a strategic assessment could look at a broader emerging or ongoing federal policy issue that is relevant to impact assessment. For example, a strategic assessment could assess how federal regulators might regulate a new sector. The assessment could help identify challenges the regulatory approach could create for future impact assessments, and how those challenges could be managed.
A strategic assessment may also inform the federal government on ongoing policy issues that are relevant to impact assessment. Examples include issues that:
- affect specific populations (e.g. women, Indigenous peoples); or
- relate to socio-economic or environmental conditions (e.g. human health, species at risk).
How are strategic assessments conducted?
The following presents common milestones of strategic assessments. Specific steps and the details of each milestone are determined on a case-by-case basis.
- Minister decides to conduct a strategic assessment
- The Minister’s decision is based on a request from the public, a recommendation from the Agency, or the Minister’s view that it is appropriate to conduct a strategic assessment.
- The Agency seeks views to help design the assessment process, and identifies opportunities and approaches for participation and engagement.
- Within the terms of reference, the Minister establishes a committee or authorizes the Agency to conduct the strategic assessment.
- The specific activities for the assessment are determined on a case-by-case basis, and informed by early engagement activities.
The Agency provides the Minister with advice on whether to undertake a strategic assessment. This advice is based on many considerations, including relevance to conducting impact assessment and the need for strategic-level direction, action or decisions to address an issue.
The Minister then determines if the Agency or a committee of independent experts will lead the assessment. The Agency typically leads strategic assessments focused on addressing common issues in impact assessment. Committees typically lead strategic assessments when external expertise and advice is needed, when multiple jurisdictions are involved, or if there is a high degree of public concern around the issue.
What are the important principles and components?
The following principles and components are important for all strategic assessments:
- Planning and engagement – Planning and engagement with stakeholders, the public, Indigenous peoples and other jurisdictions is key to inform many aspects of the strategic assessment. This includes its scope and how the assessment will be conducted.
- Cooperation – Cooperation is a central tenet and may involve other jurisdictions (including Indigenous jurisdictions) or multiple federal departments, depending on the topics assessed.
- Scientific information and Indigenous knowledge – Strategic assessments analyze and incorporate relevant science and Indigenous knowledge, including the knowledge of Indigenous women. Scientific information and Indigenous knowledge are equally valued and used in tandem.
- Indigenous involvement and engagement – Engaging with Indigenous peoples throughout a strategic assessment is important to ensure the rights of Indigenous peoples are respected.
- Meaningful public participation – Meaningful public participation is a core part of strategic assessments and required under section 99 of the Act. Funding to support public and Indigenous involvement in assessments is provided through the Participant Funding Program.
- Gender-based Analysis Plus – Gender-based analysis is applied to strategic assessments to help consider different impacts to subsets of the population.
- Fostering sustainability – Sustainability is a key driver of strategic assessments, contributing to:
- social and economic well-being;
- the preservation of health; and
- Canada’s ability to protect the environment in a way that benefits present and future generations.
- Predictability and transparency – The Canadian Impact Assessment Registry provides information about the status of each assessment. The public can use it to access relevant information in advance of public engagement and participation sessions.
For more information about strategic assessments, see the Policy Framework for Strategic Assessment under the Impact Assessment Act.
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