On April 5, 2017, the Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, held an armchair discussion with Johanne Gélinas, Chair of the Expert Panel reviewing federal environmental assessment processes. I was there in the audience with hundreds of fellow Impact Assessment (IA) practitioners - many of us have since read the panel’s report, Building Common Ground, have discussed it extensively with our colleagues, and are working on our submissions. We "IA nerds" are an enthusiastic bunch who are eager to share our thoughts, and I encourage others to do the same.
Industry representatives, social advocates, conservation organizations, academic institutions, Aboriginal communities, individuals, municipal agencies - we are all unique yet equal participants in this conversation.
I’ve summarized some of the panel’s recommendations below. I hope that one or several may catch your interest and encourage you to go online to review the report and submit your comments by May 5.
Select recommendations from the panel
- Moving away from determination of significance of adverse environmental effects and instead assessing a project based on sustainability criteria (i.e., evaluate net benefits and review trade-offs between environmental, social, economic, health and cultural impacts, both positive and negative).
- Creating a new federal authority, the Impact Assessment Commission (“the Commission”) to conduct IAs. The Commission would require the expertise and capacity to deliver on the following functions: Planning and Assessment; Science and Knowledge; Indigenous Relations; Public Participation; Proponent Liaison; Information Management; and Monitoring and Enforcement.
- Including Indigenous Peoples in decision-making at all stages of IA, in accordance with their own laws and customs, and increasing the Commission's and communities' capacity to meaningfully engage.
- Requiring that all information included in impact assessments (e.g., raw data from field studies) and information about post-construction monitoring and enforcement (e.g., effectiveness of mitigation measures) be publicly and permanently accessible through a central database.
- Increasing use of regional and strategic environmental assessments to help focus project-specific assessments and to better address cumulative effects.
- Establishing distinct phases of IA - Planning Phase, Study Phase, and Decision Phase. The planning phase would begin early in project development and conclude with a conduct of assessment agreement. All studies outlined in the assessment agreement would be completed during the study phase. During the decision phase, the Commission would seek Indigenous consent and issue a decision based on sustainability criteria. Multi-stakeholder, in-person engagement would occur throughout all phases of IA.
Common ground is built from meaningful dialogue - be a part of the conversation and provide your input on the panel's recommendations. Express yourself!