Panel Reviews Under the Proposed Federal Impact Assessment Act (IAA)

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Impact Assessment Act, Climate Change, Regulatory Process, Canada



Environmental assessments in Canada have gone through many changes over the past 40 years. The federal process has evolved from the 1973 EARP process to the 1984 EARP Guidelines Order, the 1992, 2003, 2010, and 2012 versions of CEAA, and now the proposed IAA under Bill C-69. Through these various transitions, there have been changes to the triggering mechanism, the process options, scope and decision making (among others). A constant throughout has been that Review Panels have served as the high-water mark of assessments under the federal process. Of course, Review Panels have not been immune to change during this 40-year evolution of federal EA, and they have been affected by other changes to federal EA. In this post, we consider the proposed changes in Bill C-69 as they relate to the process for Review Panels. We consider these changes in the broader context of the transition that Review Panels have undergone prior to the introduction of Bill C-69. We particularly note the following in this regard:

  • There has been a trend to reduce the Panel’s role in determining the scope of assessments, with the Minister gradually taking over the role of making scope determinations (in the form of the Terms of Reference for the Panel and the EIS Guidelines issued to the proponent). Both are now finalized before Panel’s are appointed.
  • There has been a trend toward imposing legislated timelines on Review Panel processes.
  • There has been a trend away from asking Panels to offer overall recommendations and conclusions about a proposed project.
  • There has been a trend toward Joint Review Panels that include other interested jurisdictions as well as regulators.
  • There has been a trend toward fewer Review Panels under the federal EA process, using substitution and other process options to reduce the number of Review Panels carried out.