Canada’s New Environmental Assessment Regime: What Miners Need to Know

by Dentons

[authors:  David Hunter, Nalin Sahni and George McKibbon (McKibbon Wakefield Inc.).

As part of the federal budget, the government has proposed a complete overhaul of federal environmental assessment in Canada. The repeal and re-enactment of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (“CEAA”) and amendments to other federal environmental legislation amount to the most significant change in federal environmental assessment (“EA”) since the legislation was first created decades ago. These changes are vast and their full impact on the mining industry, particularly in Ontario, will not be known for years to come.

Over the next few weeks, the FMC Mining Group will analyze and comment on the proposed amendments and their impact on environmental assessments related to mining in Ontario. These commentaries will of course take into consideration the recent changes to Ontario’s Mining Act, Far North Act and Aboriginal consultation requirements.

Though complex, the amendments will have three major impacts:

1. Federal EAs will be more limited in scope and will apply to fewer projects.
2. More discretion for the Minister of the Environment and Cabinet in the EA process.
3. Huge downloading of EA responsibilities to the provinces.

In this first article, we provide a general overview of the proposed amendments relevant to miners. Future articles, will discuss particular subjects in detail including public participation, Aboriginal consultation, broad changes to the Fisheries Act, and harmonization with provincial environmental assessment processes.

Projects Requiring an Environmental Assessment

The former list of federal actions that trigger a formal environmental assessment (usually a permit) has been eliminated. EAs are only required if the project is designated by regulation. This change should make it much clearer which projects require an environmental assessment though it can be amended at any time by Cabinet.

Activities that are “incidental” to designated projects (possibly road access, transmission lines, air strips, etc.) must also be covered by the EA. Since what is “incidental” to a project is not defined by CEAA, this may the subject of much debate.

Who Conducts the Environmental Assessment?

If mining projects are included in the list of projects designated as requiring a federal EA, conducting the EA will be the responsibility of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency or a review panel established by the Minister of the Environment (the “Minister”). The exception here would be uranium mining projects. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission will continue to have lead responsibility for environmental assessment of uranium mines.

Types of Environmental Assessments and Timelines

The CEAA amendments will eliminate the concept of comprehensive study reports. There will now be only two levels of federal environmental assessment – “standard EA’s” (similar to current screening level studies) and EA’s performed by review panels. Standard EAs must be completed within 365 days, and review panels must complete their assessment within 24 months of receiving a complete environmental impact report from the proponent. Note that these times lines are not fixed but can be extended up to 3 months at the discretion of the Minister or indefinitely by Cabinet. Public participation in a review panel hearing will be limited to those “directly affected” or who have relevant expertise. Non-governmental organizations seeking to intervene in EAs may find it difficult to obtain standing to participate in review panel proceedings.

Harmonization with Provincial Environmental Assessments

The new CEAA is trying to move towards a “one project, one review” system. Federal EA process for standard EAs can be replaced by a provincial EA if the Minister is of the opinion that the provincial environmental assessment act would be an “appropriate substitute” and the province requests the substitution. Panel reviews cannot be substituted by a provincial process but the new CEAA continues to allow for a joint federal-provincial panel review.

The provincial EA process does not have to be as rigorous as the federal assessment though the same factors must be considered. The Minister can also approve the substitution of a provincial EA after a provincial EA has been completed. It would appear that all current federal-provincial harmonization agreements will have to be rewritten from scratch. Given that these agreements have typically taken years to negotiate, achieving a true a “one project, one review” system may take a considerable period of time. Eventually, however, these changes could remove unnecessary duplication in EAs.

Scope of Environmental Assessments
The purpose of CEAA has been significantly altered. Formerly, the purpose was to ensure that projects did not have significant adverse environmental effects that could not be justified. This purpose has been reduced such that projects should not have significant adverse environmental effects only upon the components of the environment within federal jurisdiction. This could generate debate and uncertainty as to the types of effects covered by federal EAs.

Further, only enumerated environmental effects need to be taken into account. Cabinet alone can add or remove a component of the natural environmental that must be assessed. Coupled with the changes to the Fisheries Act to focus on the protection of commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fisheries, this means that many mining projects may no longer require federal EAs and may be primarily governed by provincial EA processes. The definition of what constitutes a commercial, recreation or Aboriginal fishery will be the subject of debate.

While the scope and purpose of federal assessments has generally been narrowed, the assessment of environmental effects on Aboriginal peoples has been given increased focus. Amendments relating to Aboriginal peoples are especially significant when combined with the proposed amendments to Ontario’s Mining Act regulations and the new requirements under the Far North Act. FMC will prepare a commentary devoted entirely to this subject.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Dentons | Attorney Advertising

Written by:


Dentons on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.