How to protect water through the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act - Part 1

This four-part blog series will help people to participate in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) consultations organized by the federal government and to advocate for better assessment and protection of water, through:

  1. providing information and talking points to become informed for public workshops
  2. providing information and talking points to make a presentation to the CEAA panel

We will advocate for better assessment and protection of water by asking the panel to recommend reinstating and improving water protections that were stripped from legislation in 2012 by the former Harper government.

This is part of the Council of Canadians’ Every Lake, Every River campaign. The goal of the campaign is to restore and enhance protections to the 99% of waterways in Canada that were lost in 2012.

CEAA Review Background

The Trudeau government committed to “review, modernize, and restore” environmental and regulatory processes. In June 2016, six federal ministers whose mandates impact the environment announced they would review environmental legislation gutted by the former Harper government.

The reviews are to include consultations through the fall in four areas:

  • National Energy Board
  • Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA)
  • Fisheries Act
  • Navigation Protection Act

This blog series is about the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act - which is being reviewed through a public consultation process with an expert review panel. On September 19, 2016, the Canadian Environmental Assessment expert panel launched consultations in 19 cities from coast to coast. Check these links for the locations and dates for the public workshops and panel presentations. Spots can fill up quickly in some locations so register as soon as possible to secure your spot.

The Council of Canadians encourages community members to use this opportunity to make the connection between federal environmental assessments and the protection of water.

Environmental Assessments and Water

It is critical that we advocate for better assessment and protection of water through the Canadian Environmental Assessment (EA) processes by asking the expert panel to recommend reinstating and improving water protections that were stripped from legislation in 2012 by the Harper government.

Current Problems: Watered-Down Assessments

The former Harper government's 2012 budget bills made changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) that resulted in the cancelation of nearly 3,000 environmental assessments. The scope of environmental assessments was also drastically narrowed. Ecojustice notes that under the CEAA 2012, projects that go through comprehensive environmental studies – the second most rigorous of the three processes – no longer need to include a range of information in their project descriptions including:

  • A description on the impact on navigable waters or any unique or special resources not already identified.
  • A description of the components of the environment that are likely to be affected by the project and a summary of potential environmental effects and information relating to the terrain, water bodies, air, and vegetation that would give federal authorities a more accurate picture of the environment that may be impacted by the activity.
  • A description of the name, width and depth of any waterway affected by the project and a description of how the waterway is likely to be affected.

Photo by Charlene Morton of the South Shore Chapter of the Council of Canadians

Current Problems: Overlooked Assessments

Previous to 2012, if the project would substantially interfere with navigable waters (as set out in the former Navigable Waters Protection Act), it automatically triggered an environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. This is no longer the case, as the list of “navigable waters” has been drastically restricted under the current Navigation Protection Act to just 97 lakes, 62 rivers, and 3 oceans. Changes made to the National Energy Board Act and the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act have also caused assessments to be overlooked: the change defines “project” as not including pipelines or transmission lines, and so EAs are no longer triggered by these kinds of projects. Though these changes were made through other Acts, improvements to the CEAA could help account for this oversight.

What is needed for a renewed and effective CEAA:

  • Strengthen federal environmental assessments by reinstating the requirement for environmental assessments to include the above information on relevant waterways and impacts on waters
  • Respect and protect more waterways by eliminating the schedule of 97 lakes, 62 rivers and three oceans (through the NPA) to provide protection and oversight to every lake and every river in Canada once again.
  • Reduce oversight on impacts to water by reinstating a trigger for Environmental Assessment if a project would substantially interfere with water, including pipeline and transmission line projects.
  • Consult with Indigenous communities and incorporate the obligation to obtain free, prior and informed consent into the federal environmental assessment process so that Indigenous treaty and water rights are respected and a nation-to-nation relationship is truly established. (To learn more about the Tshihqot'in Decision and Indgeinous Self- Determination, read Art Maunuel's article here.)
  • Ensure that a consultation process is established that fosters true collaboration between communities and government so regulatory agencies implement community recommendations on an ongoing basis. Develop clauses that establish a community’s right to say “no” to projects that threaten waterways and empowers communities to create low-carbon, sustainable jobs that safeguard water. (For examples of communities protecting their water, read about Mount Shasta, California's community ordiance, Inverness, Nova Scotia’s fracking by-law. and the public trust doctrine in Vermont.)

This blog was written with Prairies Organizing Assistant Diane Connors. This week, we will be posting three more blogs that address and provide information and talking points for three of the seven themes in the CEAA panel review process including Environmental Assessment in Context, Overarching Indigenous Considerations And Planning Environmental Assessment. See the remaining blogs below!

Next » Part 2 – Environmental Assessment in Context

For more information, check these relevant websites: