Purpose, Need, and Alternatives Through the Lens of Sustainability and the Public Interest

AuthorArlene Kwasniak and Sharon Mascher
 10
Purpose, Need, and Alternatives Through
the Lens of Sustainability and the Public
Arlene Kwasniak and Sharon Mascher
A primary tool to foster and achieve sustainability is the practice of
impact assessment (IA). Through carrying out IA processes, regula-
tors and other decision makers identify and assess the environmental,
health, social, and economic consequences of proposed projects to
assist in determining whether they should be approved and, if so, under
what conditions. By implementing IA legislation, projects will ideally
be better planned and more acceptable, have fewer adverse impacts and
social costs, and confer greater positive societal benets.
Canada’s Impact Assessment Act (IAA),1 regulations, and guidance
material provide and inform IA processes for projects within federal
jurisdiction that are designated for assessment under the Act. Central
among these processes are consideration of the IAA’s section 22 factors,
each of which must be taken into account in IA. This chapter focuses
on four key section 22 factors: the purpose of the project, the need for
the project, alternatives to the project, and alternative means of carrying
out the project, which we sometimes abbreviate as purpose, need, and
alternatives. The chapter shows how together these four factors play an
essential role in the federal IA process, in particular with respect to the
Act’s objective to achieve more sustainable outcomes.
1 SC 2019, c 28, s 1.
     218
This chapter begins with a general discussion (not specic to the
IAA) of the role that purpose, need, and alternatives play in assessment
processes. The chapter then focuses on the Act, regulations, and guid-
ance material and purpose, need, and alternatives in the context of
phases of the assessment process, including the planning phase, the
assessment phase, and the decision-making phase. Then the chapter
considers a hypothetical mining project example to illustrate how see-
ing and analyzing these factors through the lens of sustainability and
the public interest in accordance with the IAA diers from dealing with
these factors under previous assessment legislation. The chapter con-
cludes with a summary and recommendations on how need, purpose,
and alternatives might be better grounded in the IAA, regulations, and
guidance material in order to advance sustainability and the public
interest, as required by the Act.2
1) Purpose and Need and Their Interrelationship
A statement of purpose provides what is to be achieved by the pro-
ject and the project’s objectives.3 Purpose can be expressed in various
ways, ranging from a narrow articulation to a broad one. For example,
suppose that a proposed project is to build a bridge to connect two
landforms separated by water. The project proponent might describe
the purpose as simply that: to build a bridge to connect two landforms
separated by water. Or the project proponent might frame the pur-
pose more broadly, to include not only the descriptive purpose but also
broader societal purposes: for example, to build a bridge to facilitate
and increase commerce between two landforms separated by water.
The purpose forms the foundation to establishing the need for
a project, which is the factual basis that explains and underpins the
2 See, for example, ibid, ss 6(1)(a), 6(3), 8(b), 22(1)(h), 60–64, and 106. See also the discus-
sion in Section C(1), below in this chapter.
3 See, for example, Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, “Practitioner’s Guide to
Federal Impact Assessments Under the Impact Assessment Act,” entries for “need for,
“purpose of,” “alternatives to,” and “alternative means,” s 2.4 at 2, online: Government of
Canada www.canada.ca/en/impact-assessment-agency/services/policy-guidance/
practitioners-guide-impact-assessment-act.html [“Practitioner’s Guide”].

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