Core Principles for Environmental Assessment

Core Principles for Environmental Assessment

Following on the heels of a disappointing process for the seven-year review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (“CEAA”), core principles for environmental assessment laws have been endorsed by numerous environmental groups across Canada. The core principles for environmental assessment are:

1. adopt sustainability as the core objective;
2. strengthen public participation;
3. meaningfully involve Aboriginal governments as decision-makers;
4. establish a legal framework for strategic environmental assessments;
5. establish a legal framework for regional environmental assessments;
6. require comprehensive, regional cumulative effects assessments;
7. employ multi-jurisdictional assessment and avoid substitution;
8. ensure transparency and access to information;
9. make environmental assessment procedures fairer, more predictable and accessible; and
10.apply design principles throughout the environmental assessment process to ensure that focus and efficiency do not come at the expense of democratic and constitutional rights

Further discussion of these principles is available online at

These principles align well with the ELC’s recommendations regarding CEAA (see our comments on our website here and here).  For example, the ELC has recommended the extension of public participation rights to all levels of environmental assessment under CEAA (including screenings). Effective public participation requires that all necessary and relevant information must be required by the regulator and be made easily accessible to the public. 

Given recent comments by the Prime Minster and the federal Natural Resources Minister, it is apparent that the current government is contemplating changes to “streamline” the federal environmental assessment process. No proposed amendments to CEAA have yet been released by the federal government.  Certainly, the current environmental assessment processes in Canada can be improved and strengthened.  However, these processes should not be diminished. 

The ELC is developing model provincial and federal environmental assessment laws (the “Model EA Laws”).  It is the ELC’s goal that the Model EA Laws will be used by both provincial and federal governments to improve Canada’s environmental assessment processes.  The Model EA Laws will incorporate environmentally sound principles, enabling sustainable decision-making to become part of Canada’s landscape. 

The ELC thanks its funders – Alberta Ecotrust Foundation and the Alberta Law Foundation – for supporting the Model EA Laws project. 

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