The Evolution of Canadian Environmental Assessment Practice and Literature

AuthorMeinha rd Doelle and A John Sinclair
 1
The Evolution of Canadian Environmental
Assessment Practice and Literature
Meinhard Doelle and A John Sinclair
Environmental assessment (EA) processes have been an important
tool in the governance toolbox in Canada for over forty years. EAs are
intended to inform decisions about whether and under what conditions
to permit proposed new endeavours.1 At the federal level in Canada, the
assessment process has gone through a number of transitions, from
voluntary to binding, and then through several legislative eorts, in
the form of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA 1995),2 the
Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012),3 and the Impact
Assessment Act (IAA) of 2019.4
Although the focus of this book is on the IAA, it is important to
note that in Canada, practitioners, decision makers, and academics
have been very active since the late 1970s in the eld of federal EAs.
They have greatly contributed to our understanding of the uncertain-
ties inherent in achieving a more sustainable society and the role of
assessment in that shi. The early work of institutions such as the
1 Barry Sadler, International Study of the Eectiveness of Environmental Assessment (Ottawa:
Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, 1996); see also Christopher Wood,
Environmental Impact Assessment: A Comparative Perspective (Essex, UK: Longman, 1995).
2 SC 1992, c 37. The entry into force of the Act was delayed until 1995 to allow for key
regulations to be developed and passed.
3 SC 2012, c 19, s 52.
4 SC 2019, c 28, s 1.
     12
Canadian Environmental Assessment Research Council set the stage for
Canadians to contribute to virtually every aspect of assessment design.
We capture some of this history below, showing how it underpins the
evolution of assessment at the federal level up to today. This journey of
EA in Canada is referenced in the chapters that follow. For a more com-
plete history of the federal assessment process, the reader is directed to
other volumes, such as Hazell (1999) and Doelle (2008).5
In tracing the history of the federal EA process in Canada, it is useful
to consider some of the milestones in the evolution of the process, as
well as how the focus and purpose of EA have shied over time. Four
stages in the evolution, as identied by Gibson and Hanna, provide a
useful road map to the evolution of the federal EA process. They include
the following:
Stage 1. This stage involves assessments that focused on pollution
control solutions to locally signicant adverse environmental
impacts, generally in the form of releases of pollutants into air,
water, or soil.
Stage 2. In this stage, the focus shis to more proactive eorts
to identify and mitigate possible environmental impacts of pro-
posed activities. It remains a technical process, with little public
participation and no consideration of socio-economic factors.
Stage 3. In the third stage, EA processes seek to integrate environ-
mental considerations into broader planning decisions but still
in the context of individual activities proposed. This involves
consideration of a full range of factors that aect whether a pro-
posed activity should proceed, including environmental, cultural,
historical, and economic impacts. This stage involves consider-
ation of the need for the proposed activity and alternatives and
requires active public engagement to be eective.
5 Stephen Hazell, Canada v. the Environment: Federal Environmental Assessment 1984–1998
(Toronto: Canadian Environmental Defence Fund, 1999); Meinhard Doelle, The Federal
Environmental Assessment Process: A Guide and Critique (Markham, ON: LexisNexis
Canada, 2008).

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