Considering the Potential for Meaningful Public Participation Under Canada's Impact Assessment Act

AuthorA John Sinclair and Alan P Diduck
 15
Considering the Potential for Meaningful
Public Participation Under Canada’s Impact
Assessment Act
A John Sinclair and Alan P Diduck*
Ensuring that the general public, stakeholder organizations, and other
levels of government have a voice in decisions around development
activities has long been a goal of the Canadian government.1 For many, a
high watermark in this regard was the Berger Inquiry, which took place
in the 1970s in relation to a proposal to build a gas pipeline along the
Mackenzie Valley.2 Thomas Berger and his team did many new things,
particularly in terms of public involvement, that were a departure from
the past and set a benchmark for the future:
Environmental and Indigenous organizations received funding
to present their own expert witnesses at the formal hearings held
in Yellowknife — a rst.
* Research supporting this chapter was funded by the Social Science and Humanities
Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).
1 Meaningful public participation involves objectives, principles, methods, and out-
comes that are broadly applicable in Canada. For specic principles, rights, issues, and
institutional arrangements pertaining to Indigenous peoples and governments, see
chapters 6 and 9.
2 DJ Gamble, “The Berger Inquiry: An Impact Assessment Process” Science 199:4332
(3March 1978) 946; Robert Page, Northern Development: The Canadian Dilemma
(Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986).
Considering the Potential for Meaningful Public Participation Under Canada’s IAA | 327
Hearings were organized in more than thirty Dene, Inuit, and
non-Aboriginal communities across the Northwest Territories
so that residents could oer testimony.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation created an Aboriginal
news team that broadcast nightly reports from the inquiry in six
Hearings were also organized in cities across southern Canada
so that all Canadians could express their views.
The inquiry’s nal report, released on 9 May 1977, was a bestseller,
with 10,000 copies in circulation by the end of the rst week.3
Since the late 1970s, many reports, journal papers, and other publi-
cations have been written about the important role that environmental
assessment (EA) processes can play in ensuring sound participation in
decision making.4 There are now also many practice manuals, regula-
tory guidance documents, and policy briefs that provide direction on
public participation in assessments.5 These recognize that the role of
the public in EA has evolved signicantly, especially as the focus has
shied from a technical exercise of predicting biophysical impacts of
3 First Nations Study Program, “Berger Inquiry,” online: University of British Columbia; “Hundreds Testify Before
Berger” CBC, online:
4 Ciaran O’Faircheallaigh, “Public Participation and Environmental Impact Assessment:
Purposes, Implications, and Lessons for Public Policy Making” (2010) 30:1 Environ-
mental Impact Assessment Review 19; Richard K Morgan, “Environmental Impact
Assessment: The State of the Art” (2012) 30:1 Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal 5;
David P Lawrence, Impact Assessment: Practical Solutions to Recurrent Problems and Con-
temporary Challenges (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2013); A John Sinclair & Alan P
Diduck, “Public Participation in Canadian Environmental Assessment: Enduring Chal-
lenges and Future Directions” in Kevin S Hanna, ed, Environmental Impact Assessment:
Practice and Participation (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2016) 65.
5 International Association for Public Participation, “IAP2 Core Values” (2014), online
rev1.pdf; Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, “Public Participation Guide,
Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD Due Diligence Guid-
ance for Meaningful Stakeholder Engagement in the Extractive Sector (2017), online: www.
engagement-in-the-extractive-sector-9789264252462-en.html; Asian Development
Bank, Strengthening Participation for Development Results: An Asian Development Bank
Guide to Participation (2012), online:

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