Policy Framework for Strategic Assessment under the Impact Assessment Act
This policy framework supports the implementation of strategic assessments under the Impact Assessment Act (IAA). It provides principles and expectations for conducting strategic assessments. It is intended to assist those involved in strategic assessments, including committees or the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (Agency) who are responsible for conducting a strategic assessment, federal departments and agencies, Indigenous peoples, stakeholders, other jurisdictions and the public.
This document aligns with the Government of Canada’s approach to impact assessment, and with other Agency policy and guidance supporting the implementation of the IAA. This document is provided as policy guidance on the implementation of the relevant statutory provisions; to the extent of any conflict, the IAA shall prevail.
Sections 95 to 103 of the IAA provide the legal authorities and requirements for strategic assessments. As outlined in subsection 95(1) of the IAA, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change (Minister) may establish a committee or authorize the Agency to conduct a strategic assessment of:
- any Government of Canada policy, plan or program — proposed or existing — that is relevant to conducting impact assessments; or
- any issue that is relevant to conducting impact assessments of designated projects or of a class of designated projects.
The legal requirements related to conducting a strategic assessment include the following:
- The Minister must establish the terms of reference for the strategic assessment;
- The Agency or committee conducting the assessment must take into account any scientific information and Indigenous knowledge that is provided, including the knowledge of Indigenous women;
- Opportunities for meaningful public participation must be provided and information used in strategic assessments must be made available to the public;
- Federal authorities in possession of specialist or expert knowledge related to the strategic assessment must provide it upon request;
- The Agency or committee conducting the assessment must provide a report to the Minister on completion of the assessment. This report must set out how the Agency or committee took into account and used any Indigenous knowledge provided related to the assessment; and
- The Minister must respond, with reasons, to any request that a strategic assessment be conducted.
The IAA requires that any relevant strategic assessment be taken into account when the Agency decides if an impact assessment is required for a designated project (paragraph 16(2)(e)), and as a factor in project-specific impact assessments (paragraph 22(1)(p)). The Minister may also consider any relevant strategic assessment before making an order to designate a physical activity (subsection 9(2)). This policy framework does not provide a full list of legal authorities and requirements for strategic assessment, and the IAA can be consulted for further information. It should also be noted that strategic assessments under the IAA are different than strategic environmental assessments required under the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals.Footnote1
Information on completed and ongoing strategic assessments can be found on the Canadian Impact Assessment Registry, including the status of the assessment and the public opportunities to participate in the process.
3. Strategic assessments under the IAA
The IAA indicates that strategic assessments can assess federal policies, plans, programs or issues relevant to conducting impact assessment. Strategic assessments may evaluate existing or proposed federal policies, plans or programs that cause or contribute to issues arising in the impact assessment of projects. In such cases, a strategic assessment can consider how those issues may be addressed in the development, refinement or implementation of the evaluated policies, plans or programs.
Strategic assessments may also consider any issue relevant to impact assessment, regardless of whether it is known to result from a specific federal policy, plan or program. This could include, for example, environmental, health, social or economic issues encountered in impact assessment processes, but also broader policy issues that apply to other federal activities that are relevant to the conduct of impact assessment.
The conduct of a strategic assessment is guided by overarching objectives identified for the assessment and follows the terms of reference set by the Minister. It considers options for addressing the identified issues and proposes actions for addressing them. It does this in a participatory, transparent manner consistent with the requirements for meaningful participation set out in the IAA.
Importantly, strategic assessment is not an assessment of specific projects, and it is not required before an impact assessment of a designated project. Strategic assessment informs and influences subsequent impact assessments. It can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of impact assessments by providing information and analysis that may not be otherwise available at the project level, and by providing advice on how issues and the effects of policies, plans and programs should be addressed.
4. Application of strategic assessments
Strategic assessment is a flexible tool that can be applied to achieve various objectives. However, the objective of a strategic assessment under the IAA would typically fall under one of the two following categories, which are also described in greater detail further below:
- Strategic assessments of issues commonly faced in impact assessments – where the main interest in undertaking the strategic assessment is to help address issues that commonly arise in project impact assessments and that are difficult to address effectively at the project level; or
- Strategic assessments of broader policy issues – where the main interest in undertaking the strategic assessment is to consider emerging or ongoing policy issues that are relevant to conducting impact assessments.
Strategic assessment of issues commonly faced in impact assessments
Strategic assessments can help address issues that commonly arise in project impact assessments and that are difficult to address at the project level. In these cases, the main interest or objective for the strategic assessment is to address an issue specifically encountered in impact assessment. These may be issues that go beyond the scope of individual project assessments or beyond what a single proponent is able to manage. This could include issues that are common to multiple projects or sectors of activities (e.g. energy, mining, transportation), or that may need multiple partners to work together to find and implement solutions (e.g. federal departments, industry representatives, other jurisdictions and Indigenous peoples).
Strategic assessments can inform the conduct of impact assessment by helping to, for example, clarify the causes of a challenging issue and propose how to address it. This would include examining how changes to federal policies, plans or programs – or developing new ones – could address the issue outside of impact assessment processes. It could also include actions that can be taken in impact assessments (e.g. setting standard mitigation measures or follow-up program requirements to integrate at the project level).
Strategic assessments of broader policy issues
Strategic assessments can consider broader policy issues that are relevant to impact assessment. In these cases, the main interest or objective for the strategic assessment is to address questions about a broader emerging or ongoing policy issue, which may apply to federal activities beyond impact assessment processes. For example, a strategic assessment could assess policies, plans and programs contemplated by federal regulators for an emerging sector, and potentially inform strategic decisions about the sector. This would include, but not be limited to, assessing whether the policies, plans and programs may result in effects that would be challenging to address in impact assessment, and how those issues could be managed. The mandates of more than one federal department may be implicated in this type of assessment, which highlights the importance of cooperation in strategic assessment. Cooperation as a guiding principle for strategic assessment is described further on in this document.
Strategic assessment can also support the federal government in considering direction for ongoing policy issues that are relevant to impact assessment. For example, strategic assessments could examine issues that are national in scope, that affect specific populations (e.g. women, Indigenous peoples), or that consider socio-economic and environmental conditions (e.g. human health, species at risk). This type of strategic assessment might entail understanding the current state of polices, plans and programs related to the issue and what they achieve, identifying their subsequent effects and proposing ways to address those effects.
5. Strategic assessment process
The following presents common milestones of a strategic assessment process under the IAA. Specific steps and the details of each milestone will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
- Minister Decides to Conduct a Strategic Assessment
- Decision may result from a request from the public, a recommendation by the Agency, or when the Minister is of the view that a strategic assessment is appropriate.
- Decision is posted on the Canadian Impact Assessment Registry (Registry).
- Planning and Engagement
- The Agency seeks views to help design the strategic assessment process and identify opportunities and approaches for participation and engagement.
- The Agency posts the draft terms of reference on the Registry for public comment.
- The Agency posts the final terms of reference on the Registry.
- Minister establishes a committee or authorizes the Agency to conduct the strategic assessment.
- The strategic assessment is conducted based on the terms of reference and guided by this policy framework. The specific activities for a strategic assessment are determined on a case-by-case basis, and informed by early engagement activities.
- The draft strategic assessment report is posted on the Registry for public comment.
- The final strategic assessment report is posted on the Registry.
- On a case-by-case basis, the Minister may provide direction on actions related to the outcomes of the strategic assessment, such as follow-up activities.
6. Considerations for selecting strategic assessments
The Minister can decide to conduct a strategic assessment under the IAA based on a request from the public or a recommendation by the Agency, or when the Minister is of the view that it is appropriate to do so.
The Agency supports the Minister with advice as to whether to undertake a strategic assessment. The Agency’s advice to the Minister on whether to conduct a strategic assessment takes into consideration whether:
- the policy, plan, program or issue to assess is relevant to conducting impact assessments;
- the strategic assessment could inform or improve the efficiency and effectiveness of future federal impact assessments of designated projects or classes of projects;
- the policy, plan, program or issue to assess is related to an area of federal jurisdiction;
- the strategic assessment could assist in addressing an issue that requires strategic-level direction, action or decision;
- the strategic assessment could assist in addressing adverse effects, including cumulative impacts that fall within federal jurisdiction, or impacts to the rights of Indigenous peoples;
- there is public interest related to the policy, plan, program or issue; and
- an existing or planned initiative would adequately achieve the desired outcomes.
Anyone can request the conduct of a strategic assessment under the IAA. In accordance with the Information and Management of Time Limits Regulations, the Minister has 90 days to respond to a request for a strategic assessment, with reasons. For more information, consult the Operational Guide: Requesting a Regional or Strategic Assessment under the Impact Assessment Act.
7. Strategic assessment by a committee or by the Agency
The Minister must decide whether a strategic assessment will be conducted by a committee or by the Agency. The Agency advises and assists the Minister in deciding whether the Agency or a committee will conduct the strategic assessment. The Agency’s advice will take into account factors including the complexity of the assessment, the expertise available within the Agency and/or within the federal government to conduct the assessment, opportunities for cooperation with other jurisdictions, and public concerns.
By the Agency
When the strategic assessment is focused on addressing issues commonly faced in impact assessments, the Agency will typically lead the assessment. In cases where the issues relate to the mandate and responsibilities of multiple federal departments, a working group will be established to support the Agency in conducting the assessment.
By a committee
A committee may typically lead on strategic assessments of broader policy issues when reliance on external expertise and advice is needed, multiple jurisdictions are involved, or there is a high degree of public concern around the issue.
A committee is comprised of one or more independent experts appointed by the Minister to conduct the strategic assessment. The members are selected based on their knowledge, including their knowledge of the interests and concerns of the Indigenous peoples of Canada that are relevant to the assessment, and their experience and expertise. A flexible, case-by-case approach to appointing committee members allows the Minister to consider the specific context of each strategic assessment while respecting the requirements of the IAA. When the Minister establishes a committee to conduct strategic assessments, the Agency supports the committee in its conduct of the assessment.
8. Implementation components and principles
The following components and principles are to be reflected in the implementation of strategic assessments, to ensure consistency with the principles and objectives of the IAA.
Planning and engagement
The inherent flexibility of strategic assessment increases the importance of planning. Planning and engagement may often start after the Minister has decided to conduct a strategic assessment; however, activities could begin earlier to help inform the Minister’s decision about whether to conduct a particular strategic assessment. For example, early activities could begin after a request to conduct a strategic assessment is received by the Minister, or when the Government of Canada is proactively considering whether to conduct a strategic assessment on a particular issue.
Engagement in the planning stages may be conducted with stakeholders, the public, Indigenous peoples, and other jurisdictions, as determined on a case-by-case basis. Planning and engagement can inform many aspects of a strategic assessment, including:
- the scope of the strategic assessment;
- the development of objectives and desired outcomes; and
- how the strategic assessment would be conducted, including governance structures and mechanisms for participating and receiving input.
For every strategic assessment, the Agency supports the Minister with planning the assessment. This includes any engagement activities and the preparation of the terms of reference for the strategic assessment. The terms of reference may indicate, among other things, who is conducting the assessment, the objectives, process the assessment will follow, and opportunities for participation and engagement.
Strategic assessment provides opportunities for cooperation with other jurisdictions (including Indigenous jurisdictions) during the planning and conduct of strategic assessments and in the implementation of their outcomes. A strategic assessment may involve other jurisdictions or multiple federal departments, depending on the policies, plans, programs or issues assessed. For example, if a strategic assessment is related to the mandate of multiple federal departments, the strategic assessment would be undertaken in cooperation with those departments.
Cooperation in the design of the assessment can support the effective gathering and inclusion of diverse information and expertise. Cooperation also supports the consideration of diverse views when examining options to address an issue, which helps to ensure options are both feasible and effective.
Scientific information and Indigenous knowledge
Strategic assessments analyze and incorporate relevant science and Indigenous knowledge, including the knowledge of Indigenous women. Both Indigenous and scientific knowledge systems are equally valued and used in tandem.
Strategic assessments ensure the integrity, transparency and credibility of scientific information and Indigenous knowledge by:
- actively seeking information from a variety of sources;
- making comments received available on the Registry; and
- posting all information used when conducting the strategic assessment on the Registry, including expert advice from federal authorities (see exception below regarding confidential Indigenous knowledge).
Federal authorities in possession of expert knowledge or information with respect to a strategic assessment must provide it to the Agency or committee upon request. Other partners in the strategic assessment (e.g. provincial jurisdictions) may also provide expert knowledge or other relevant information.
The consideration of Indigenous knowledge in a strategic assessment must be based on a relationship grounded in respect and trust, and must conform to Indigenous communities’ protocols governing the use of their knowledge. For more information on Indigenous knowledge under the IAA, see the Guidance: Indigenous Knowledge under the Impact Assessment Act: Procedures for Working with Indigenous Communities.
Indigenous knowledge, including the knowledge of Indigenous women, is sought through ongoing relationships and dialogue with Indigenous communities and used in accordance with the principles set out in the Indigenous Knowledge Policy Framework for Project Reviews and Regulatory Decisions. Processes to include Indigenous knowledge in strategic assessments are inclusive of Indigenous women, youth, Elders, gender diverse and Two-Spirit peoples. Strategic assessments are conducted in a manner that aligns with the Policy Context: Indigenous Participation in Impact Assessment. Indigenous knowledge provided to the Agency or committee in confidence must be kept confidential and not disclosed or posted on the Agency website, unless certain exceptions are applied (see section 119 of the IAA). For more information on handling confidential Indigenous knowledge, see the Guidance: Protecting Confidential Indigenous Knowledge under the Impact Assessment Act.
Indigenous involvement and engagement
Engaging with Indigenous peoples throughout the conduct of a strategic assessment is part of the relationship between the Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples and strategic assessments will be undertaken in a manner that respects the rights of Indigenous peoples.
The IAA recognizes the special Constitutional relationship between the Crown and Indigenous peoples, and the particular perspectives and interests they bring to assessment processes. Strategic assessments under the IAA are also a tool to understand and help manage issues that have the potential to impact Indigenous peoples and their rights. They can provide a formal, transparent, and participatory process for identifying and assessing possible solutions based on common understanding and evidence.
Strategic assessments offer an opportunity to engage, collaborate or establish partnerships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples so that the objectives and outcomes of the process are more aligned with their interests and are inclusive of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives. The manner in which this is accomplished is determined with Indigenous peoples on a case-by-case basis, guided by Agency best practices, including:
- Guidance on Indigenous Participation in Impact Assessment;
- Guidance on Collaboration with Indigenous Peoples in Impact Assessment;
- Guidance on Indigenous Knowledge under the Impact Assessment Act: Procedures for Working with Indigenous Communities; and
- Policy Context on Assessment of Potential Impacts on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Funding to support Indigenous involvement in strategic assessments is provided through the Agency’s Participant Funding Program.
Meaningful public participation
Meaningful public participation is a fundamental element of strategic assessments and a legal requirement under section 99 of the IAA. The Agency or the committee conducting a strategic assessment must ensure that the public is given the opportunity to participate in a meaningful way, in a manner that the Agency or committee considers appropriate.
Meaningful public participation in strategic assessments should reflect considerations articulated in the Agency’s Framework on Public Participation. This may include:
- providing opportunities to be involved in the planning of a strategic assessment and to influence its design (e.g. approach, objectives, scope of issues, desired outcomes);
- providing opportunities for engagement and to comment at key points in the strategic assessment process; and
- ensuring information is made available to participants in a transparent manner, through the use of the online Canadian Impact Assessment Registry, so that participants have the necessary information to actively participate.
Funding to support public involvement in strategic assessments is provided through the Agency’s Participant Funding Program.
Predictability and transparency
Strategic assessments are conducted in a fair, impartial and transparent manner, consistent with the approach and objectives of the IAA. The Agency or the committee must ensure that the information it uses when conducting a strategic assessment is made available to the public. The Registry provides information about the status of each strategic assessment and provides the public with access to relevant information in advance of public engagement and participation, such as:
- public notices or announcements related to the conduct of strategic assessments, including opportunities for public participation;
- comments or submissions received from participants throughout the strategic assessment process;
- information provided by federal authorities or other sources related to the strategic assessment; and
- documents produced by the Agency or committee conducting the strategic assessment, including the final report to the Minister.
Gender-based Analysis Plus
Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) provides a framework to describe the full scope of potential positive and negative effects under the IAA. It sets out analytical questions to guide strategic assessments where applicable and to determine if there are different impacts for subsets of the population. Best practices can be found in the following:
- Guidance: Gender-based Analysis Plus in Impact Assessment; and
- Gender-based Analysis Plus in Impact Assessment: Fact Sheet.
One of the purposes of the IAA is to foster sustainability. In the IAA, sustainability is defined as the ability to protect the environment, contribute to the social and economic well-being of the people of Canada and preserve their health in a manner that benefits present and future generations. When scoping strategic assessments under the IAA, the interdependence of human-ecological systems and the well-being of present and future generations should be considered. In this way, strategic assessments can contribute to social and economic well-being, the preservation of health, and Canada’s ability to protect the environment in a manner that benefits present and future generations.
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