Sustainability-Based Decision Making

AuthorRobert B Gibson
 14
Sustainability-Based Decision Making
Robert B Gibson
At the federal level, the Impact Assessment Act (IAA)1 moves Canada from
assessments focused on mitigating signicant adverse environmental
(biophysical) eects to assessments centred on contributions to sus-
tainability. The shi is rst signalled in the name of the Act, which no
longer features “environmental assessment.”2 Then, the denitions sec-
tion establishes that the scope of eects to be covered includes “chan-
ges to the environment or to health, social or economic conditions
and the positive and negative consequences of these changes.”3 Finally,
the sections on factors to be considered in project assessments, and
decisions about designated projects, include “the extent to which the
designated project contributes to sustainability.”
4 As was discussed in
Chapter 9, this new agenda represents a major expansion of scope and
potential ambition. Decision making seriously committed to positive
contributions to sustainability would certainly be an improvement over
decisions that aim only to reduce adverse eects. However, many key
aspects of the Act’s positive agenda are le minimally specied or only
1 SC 2019, c 28, s 1.
2 Previous versions of federal assessment legislation were titled the Canadian Environ-
mental Assessment Act – Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, SC 1992, c 37 and
Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, SC 2012, c 19.
3 Ibid, s 2, denition of “eects.”
4 Ibid, especially ss 22(1)(h) and 63(a).
     302
implicit in the legislation, with little clarication in the initial regula-
tory or policy guidance. This chapter looks more closely at the role of
sustainability considerations in decision making under the Act.
The bulk of the Act is concerned with the assessment and approval
(or rejection) of proposed major projects. Accordingly, this chapter
focuses on decision making on the major projects subject to assessment
under the Act, including the key decisions required throughout the pro-
ject assessment process and in the follow-up stage of project implemen-
tation. However, application of the Act also involves key decisions on
many other matters. Among these are decisions about what processes
are to be used in regional and strategic assessments and what to do with
the products of these assessments; decisions on what projects must be
assessed and when regional and strategic assessments will be initiated;
decisions on the processes for and contents of regulatory and policy
guidance; and decisions on the exercise of procedural and substantive
discretion, the negotiation of collaborative agreements with other juris-
dictions, and the ongoing establishment of administrative practices.5
Although few of these decisions are explicitly required to take the
sustainability-based approach that the Act establishes for decision
making on designated projects, most, if not all, of these decisions are
expected in one way or another to serve sustainability-based project
assessment. To be useful and credible for that purpose, decision mak-
ing under the Act generally needs to respect the contribution-to-sus-
tainability objective.
The following sections of this chapter consider the following:
how and where sustainability-based decision making is needed
in assessments
what the Act and initial regulatory and policy guidance require
for sustainability-based decision making on projects and other
undertakings subject to assessment and on other key matters of
implementation (e.g., decisions on application, development of
regulations, policy making, and the use of discretion)
the overall strengths and limitations of the law and initial
openings and means for improvement
5 The Act’s overall approaches to all of these topics are covered in other chapters of this

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