How to protect water through the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act - Part 2

This is the second part in a four-part blog series that aims to 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.

In part one of this blog series, we gave background information on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) review process, which is part of the Trudeau government's commitment to restore and modernize freshwater and environmental protections. Public workshops and panel presentations began on September 19. If you are interested in participating in these, please register as soon as possible as spaces can fill up quickly in some locations.

The CEAA review panel has requested that presentations and workshops center around 7 themes:

  • Environmental Assessment in Context
  • Overarching Indigenous Considerations
  • Planning Environmental Assessment
  • Conduct of Environmental Assessment
  • Decision and Follow Up
  • Public Involvement
  • Coordination

The remainder of this blog series will focus on the first three themes and enable participants to call for water protection. In this blog, we will focus on the first theme, Environmental Assessment in Context. (Part 3 of this blog series will focus on Overarching Indigenous Considerations and Part 4 will focus on Planning Environmental Assessment)


Photo by Gord McKenna in Ladner, at the Westham Island Bridge, just south of Vancouver at the mouth of the Fraser River

Environmental Assessment in Context

The CEAA review panel has listed out several questions to guide the discussions and presentations. The remainder of this blog lists the questions and includes some talking points that address these questions.

Question 1: To what extent do current federal environmental assessment (EA) processes enable development in Canada that considers the environment, social matters and the economy?

Environmental assessments (EA) help communities protect invaluable natural resources such as water. Societies and economies depend on clean water, and other natural environmental resources, to function. Right now the current federal EA process does not do a good job of assessing impact to, and therefore protecting, natural bodies of water. Protections previously found in the CEAA (as well as the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Fisheries Act) were taken away to allow for faster development of industrial projects. This is a mistake, as now we do not have a full picture of potential impacts going into a project, and cannot make an informed decision about risks to important resources such as water.

In the Prescribed Information for the Description of a Designated Project Regulations, sections 16-19 list the information required about the environmental effects of the project. However, these sections do not specifically require information on the impacts of lakes, rivers and navigable waters. The Navigation Protection Act also doesn’t take into consideration how pollution (whether operating pollution, or from a spill or other accident) from industrial projects can impact navigable waterways which people rely on for local economies such as transportation, fishing, local tourism, recreation nor does it consider the impacts to people’s drinking water.

Question 2: What outcomes do you want federal environmental assessment processes to achieve in the future?

One of West Coast Environmental Laws’ Tvelve pillars to a visionary and new EA process is:Consideration of the best option from among a range of alternatives, whereby assessments consider alternative scenarios, including the “no” alternative. The “no” alternative is key. In order for people to have faith in the EA system, need to see that rejecting a plan is a legitimate option.

Read West Coast Environmental Law's 12 pillars here.

Question 3: How can federal environmental assessments support investor certainty, community and environmental wellbeing, the use of best available technology, certainty with respect to the protection of Aboriginal and treaty rights and timely decision making?

What is needed are:

  • Clear thresholds by which a project will be assessed and accepted or rejected.
  • Clear reflection and incorporation of the human right to water into legislation and policy.
  • Clear reflection and incorporation of UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and treaty rights into legislation and policy (Free, Prior and Informed Consent, for example).

Question 4:How should federal environmental assessment processes address the Government of Canada's international and national environmental and social commitments, such as sustainable economic growth and addressing climate change?

The federal government needs to implement strict safeguards for waterways within the framework of the United Nations-recognized human right to water. In the report Our Right to Water: A People’s
Guide to Implementing the United Nations’ Recognition of the Right to Water and Sanitation, Council of Canadians National Chairperson Maude Barlow outlines the three obligations the recognition of a human right to water imposes on governments: the obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill. This includes government’s obligation to prevent third parties from interfering with the enjoyment of the human right. For example, a government is required to protect a community from pollution by corporations or governments.

It is a myth that the majority of jobs in Canada are in resource extraction. Foresting, fishing, mining, quarrying and oil and gas only make up 2% of the total number of jobs. If we look at the numbers for oil and gas extraction and support activities for mining and oil and gas extraction (226,020 jobs) that only makes up 1% of the jobs in Canada. According to Statistics Canada's 2013 report, the industries that produce the most jobs are trade (15%), health care and social assistance (12%), manufacturing (10%), professional, scientific and technical services (8%), construction (7%) and education services (7%). Sustainable economic growth means investing in green jobs. EAs must reflect a hard line on industries that perpetuate the causes of climate change including impacts. This can include a cumulative impact assessment that considers climate change and subsequent impacts on resources such as water, which are endangered by climate change such as glaciers reducing river flow, flooding and droughts.

This blog was written with Prairies Organizing Assistant Diane Connors. 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.

Next » Part 3 – Overarching Indigenous Considerations

For more information, check out these links:

Ecojustice Legal Backgrounder on CEAA
Ecojustice Legal Backgrounder on Bill C-45 and the Navigable Waters Protection Act