Strengthening Strategic Environmental Assessment in Canada: An Evaluation of Three Basic Options

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Canada, Environmental Assessment, Sustainability Considerations, Law & Policy, Strategic Environmental Assessment, Recommendations


Canada has a long and diverse but largely disappointing record in integrating environmental and sustainability considerations into the development of policies, plans, programs and other strategic undertakings. For over 25 years, the federal government has had a policy-based strategic environmental assessment (SEA) process. In 2003, the deficiencies of this process led the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development to recommend establishment of a legislated framework for mandatory SEA before the 2010 Parliamentary review of environmental assessment. Governments since then have not acted on this recommendation but have promised to strengthen federal SEA. In this paper, we examine the three basic options for strengthening federal SEA — a law-based option, a policy-guided option and a combined law and policy approach — using criteria drawn from international assessment literature and reviews of Canadian and international SEA experience. In the Canadian context, the combined approach appears to be most promising. Accordingly, we provide a broad outline of how an integrated law and policy-based SEA regime could be structured to satisfy the criteria and deliver a workable union of firmness and flexibility.