The Weak Link in EIA Effectiveness: Challenges in Process Administration

CIM Vancouver 2016
Dr John Boyle (Vice President - Hunter Dickinson), Mr Jeffrey Barnes (Vice President, Environmental Services - Stantec)
As veteran practitioners, the authors have observed negative trends in the administration of EIA process in Canada that are contributing to a decrease in EIA effectiveness and related quality. These trends are disturbing in that they are causing a drifting away from the purpose and objectives of EIA. The “weak link” is the general capacity of government officials managing EIA processes, and the system they work within. While there are process differences among the various federal and provincial jurisdictions, the processes are generally similar, formulaic and “easy” to administer. Effectiveness and quality is challenged where the process requires administrators to make judgments and apply discretion, and where administrators have insufficient capacity or authority to apply the judgment and discretion needed to make the process effective and maintain quality. Effective, high quality EIA processes involve, among other things: the application of fundamental principles such as “good scoping” to focus efforts on the key issues; the meaningful engagement of the public and, in Canada, Aboriginal peoples; and attaining the quality of information suitable for a planning level decision rather than for the issuance of implementation permits. What the authors have observed is an increasing emphasis on the administration of process, the easy part, and a decreasing capacity or authority to make sound judgments and decisions in the aid of the effective planning for better projects through the EIA process. The paper explores causes of the trends and makes recommendations on how to stem this deviation from EIA purpose and objectives.
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