Public Participation in Impact Assessment

Fact Sheet

What is Meaningful Public Participation?

Meaningful public participation means that members of the public who want to engage in public consultations have an opportunity to do so. It means that they have access to the information they need to take part in an informed way, and that their perspectives inform and influence decisions. Meaningful public participation means that consultation processes are open, transparent and inclusive and that they occur in a timely manner.

Public Participation in Impact Assessment

The proposed Impact Assessment Act recognizes this and requires that the public have meaningful opportunities to participate throughout the assessment process, in accordance with legislation, regulations, policies and guidelines established by the proposed new Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.

Engagement starts even before the formal impact assessment begins. Engaging during a project’s Early Planning Phase, for example, sets clear objectives for public participation and allows for issues to be identified and relayed to the project proponent and officials right at the start. The Early Planning Phase also provides for the development of a Public Participation Plan that reflects the input of the public and that will identify participation objectives, engagement opportunities at each phase of the process, and methods of engagement that align with the needs of communities. In other words, it will provide certainty for the public on how and when it will be consulted within the timelines set out in the legislation and the consultation timelines set by the Agency. This helps build awareness and trust in the process.

Throughout the impact assessment process, the Agency or, where applicable, a Review Panel, will engage the public in ways that align with the objectives of the Public Participation Plan. What the public says throughout the process will be documented in an Impact Assessment Report and become part of the public record. This will be considered by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change or by Cabinet in making the public interest decision about the project, as required under the legislation.

Principles for Meaningful Public Participation

The Government of Canada believes public participation is meaningful when:

  • It starts early and continues throughout each step of the impact assessment process;
  • It is supported with funding made available through the Agency’s Participant Funding Program;
  • It is inclusive and transparent and information is available to the public on the proposed Impact Assessment Registry of Canada;
  • It is designed to increase the knowledge of participants and the government, and build relationships;
  • It is designed to prioritize the participation of those who are most affected by the proposed project, while also ensuring that members of the public have an opportunity to share their views;
  • Its methods are flexible, innovative and consider the context of the project and legislated timelines;
  • It influences decision-making and participants see how their input was considered; and
  • It continually adapts and improves.

Example of public participation methods

Public participation can take many forms. When determining what methods to use, the proposed Impact Assessment Agency of Canada will first consider the purpose or objective of the consultation activity, the timelines set in legislation and the public’s views on how they want to be consulted, within the parameters of the Impact Assessment Act.

  • To share information with the public, participation methods could include:
    • Social media and advertising, to share information with the public about impact assessments;
    • Open houses and town halls, to share information about a specific project and the impact assessment process; and
    • The proposed Impact Assessment Registry of Canada, which would include information related to a project and the impact assessment process.
  • To gather information from the public, participation methods could include:
    • Workshops, technical meetings or focus groups, for detailed discussions with a selected set of individuals on specific issues;
    • The proposed Impact Assessment Registry of Canada, to provide a forum to share comments, which will be made publicly available; and
    • Informal meetings in potentially affected communities, to hear community values, interests and concerns related to a proposed project.
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