Environmental assessments in Canada's North

Learn about regulatory regimes in the North and their role in assessing environmental impacts.

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About northern regulatory regimes

Canada's three territories are home to diverse ecosystems, as well as a place of tremendous natural resource potential that northern communities rely on for long-term economic growth. When making economic development decisions, environmental impacts must also be considered.

The environmental assessment process in Canada's northern territories is based on a unique co-management approach, rooted in the legal and cultural frameworks of land claims agreements with Indigenous peoples.

Each territory has its own regulatory regime, defined in legislation specific to the region:

In addition, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) applies in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and in certain other federally regulated areas, including offshore waters.

The Northern Participant Funding Program helps Indigenous people and Northerners participate effectively in impact assessment reviews for major infrastructure and resource extraction proposals

The review of environmental assessment legislation

As indicated in the January 2016 Speech from the Throne, the Government of Canada will conduct a review of environmental assessment processes as part of its efforts to restore public trust.

On June 20, 2016 the Government of Canada launched a review of several pieces of environmental assessment legislation. This review includes the provinces, the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and certain federally regulated areas.

As part of the CEAA review, the Government of Canada will engage with a variety of partners, including provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous groups and Northerners in general. Lead departments will undertake these targeted engagements.

Yukon's regulatory regime

Environmental assessments in Yukon are governed by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act (YESAA).

The Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Board has an important role in the protection of the environmental and social integrity of Yukon. An independent arms-length body, its role is to administer YESAA.

In 2015, as part of a wider initiative to modernize and streamline the northern regulatory regime, changes were made to YESAA. At the time, a number of Yukon First Nations and Yukoners raised concerns about certain sections of the legislation.

Under a renewed spirit of respect and cooperation, and following formal discussions with Yukon First Nations and the Yukon Government, the Government of Canada introduced Bill C-17 (PDF), a bill to amend YESAA.

The bill introduced in the House of Commons on June 8, 2016, proposes to repeal four specific provisions in YESAA of greatest concern. On December 14, 2017 the bill received royal assent.

Other recent updates to the regulatory regime in Yukon include:

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Northwest Territories' regulatory regime

Environmental assessments in the Northwest Territories' Mackenzie Valley are governed by the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act (MVRMA). This act provides for an integrated system of land and water management in the Mackenzie Valley, and to establish certain boards for that purpose. The MVRMA is administered by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board and the various land use planning and land and water boards.

There are three potential stages of the assessment process: the preliminary screening, the environmental assessment and environmental impact review.

In 2014, as part of a wider initiative to modernize and streamline the regulatory regime, changes were made to the MVRMA. First Nations opposed the amendments to the act that eliminate three regional panels and create a single land and water board for the Mackenzie Valley. Under a renewed spirit of respect and cooperation, the Government of Canada is committed to resolving that concern, based on feedback and engagement with First Nations and the territorial government, and other stakeholders.

In March 2014, the Northwest Territories Devolution Act placed more decision-making powers into the hands of the Government of the Northwest Territories, including the regulatory regimes that guide the licensing and permitting processes for major projects in the territory.

Other recent updates to the regulatory regime in the Northwest Territories include:

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Northwest Territories – Inuvialuit Settlement Region

In the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR), the environmental assessment process is governed by Section 11 of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement (IFA) as well as by the CEAA. As many projects in the region will trigger a review under both the IFA and the CEAA, environmental assessments may be coordinated so that a single environmental assessment meets the legal requirements of both jurisdictions. It is possible to substitute the IFA process for the CEAA process where applicable and with approval of the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

The Inuvialuit Final Agreement established two co-management boards to manage the review of proposed developments - the Environmental Impact Screening Committee (EISC) which conducts preliminary screening; and the Environmental Impact Review Board (EIRB) which conducts environmental assessments.

Nunavut's regulatory regime

Environmental assessments in Nunavut are rooted in the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, and are further defined by the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act (NuPPAA).

Three co-management boards, the Nunavut Planning Commission (NPC), the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) and the Nunavut Water Board (NWB) are responsible for administrating project regulatory processes in the territory. Like the Northwest Territories and Yukon, resource management in Nunavut is based on a unique co-management approach, with the federal government working collaboratively with the territorial government and Inuit organizations.

The NIRB is responsible for both the screening and impact assessment of proposed development in Nunavut. A screening is the initial impact assessment of a proposed project, with the main purpose being to determine if a more in-depth review is needed to understand the impacts of the project. Based on its review, NIRB will issue its Screening Decision Report to the responsible Minister, which will recommend one of the following approaches:

The NUPPAA and NWNSTA were both updated in 2015, as part of the Action Plan to Improve Northern Regulatory Regimes. Other recent updates to the regulatory regime in Nunavut include:

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