Cumulative Effects Assessment Practitioners' Guide

Appendix C: Cumulative Effects History in Canada

Since the advent of formal EIA legislation and policy in the 1970s, the evolution and practice of EIA has resulted in both greater detail in technical response and a broadening of expectations placed on the scope of assessments. What became increasingly clear was that conventional approaches to single project assessments would not necessarily dampen broad environmental degradation over many years; namely, the result of cumulative effects. Deficiencies in both environmental assessment practice and legislation did not provide the mechanisms to move practitioners from the examination of local short-term effects to more far-reaching goals such as sustainable development and maintenance of biodiversity.

In the 1970s, Canada's first federal and provincial environmental assessment requirements were promulgated: the federal CanadianEnvironmental Assessment and Review Process and Ontario's Environmental Assessment Act, respectively. At the federal level this was a policy and guideline only until 1984 when the Guidelines Order was issued. Although now there were frameworks to conduct environmental assessments, concerns grew regarding approaches to assessments and inherent limitations in their technical practice. Thus began, in the 1980s, a series of initiatives upon which assessments would become firmly established in Canada.

The publication of Beanlands and Duinker's An Ecological Framework for Environmental Impact Assessment in Canada in 1983 laid the fundamentals for future assessment practice. This document arguably did more to assist cumulative effects assessments practice than any other single effort by ensuring a solid basis on which to conduct any conventional EIA. In 1984, the federal government created the Canadian Environmental Assessment Research Council to support EIA research. This led to a 1985 joint U.S.-Canada workshop on cumulative effects assessments with proceedings subsequently published separately in the U.S. and Canada This workshop tackled the subject through the examination of types of cumulative impacts in various environmental systems (e.g., freshwater) and issues related to managerial and institutional limitations. The report also recognized the complexity and uncertainties of approaching the assessment of cumulative effects. Further research was recommended.

In recognition of the growing importance of addressing cumulative effects in Canada and the need for direction, the Council sponsored the subsequent review of research, management and ecosystem components of CEA and the linkages between them (Peterson et al. 1987). These efforts led to the identification of specific technical issues requiring clarification (e.g., analysis of pathways, establishing of spatial boundary) and the need to provide practical methods by which to accomplish CEAs. The Council continued to support these efforts (e.g., Lane et al. 1988). Meanwhile, various legislated assessments and project reviews were beginning to incorporate the assessment of cumulative effects (e.g., Northern Saskatchewan Uranium Mines, Alberta-Pacific Pulp Mill).

By the 1990s, various long-term regional studies were providing examples of planning approaches to CEAs (e.g., Hudson Bay Programme, Northern Rivers Basin Study, Oak Ridges Moraine Area Planning Study). A national cumulative effects conference in 1994, hosted by the Alberta Society of Professional Biologists, demonstrated that CEA practice was well established, although methodological approaches remained in their infancy (see Kennedy 1994).

By this time, all provinces had legislation or policy for environmental assessments, and the federal process was replaced by the more comprehensive Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in 1995. The consideration of cumulative effects was now explicit and mandatory in legislation both federally and in two provinces (British Columbia and Alberta). However, the concept of CEA was also beginning to expand beyond its established role to address the assessment of policy and research, and to provide the technical basis for future land use planning. The federal cabinet agreed (Boulden 1996) that policy, plans or programs would be subject to assessment, a directive that was administratively strengthened by the passage of the Act. This evolution of assessment into the broader Strategic Environmental Assessment was suggested as the "next generation process" of assessment practice by the recent International Study on the Effectiveness of Environmental Assessment, an international study initiated in part by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (Sadler 1995).

Currently, there are three bilateral (federal-provincial) harmonization agreements on environmental assessment in Canada (with Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia). Other agreements are being negotiated with provincial governments. These agreements are designed to ensure efficiency and avoid duplication in environmental assessment between jurisdictions. Since CEA is not a requirement in all jurisdictions, harmonization becomes a particular challenge.

The 1991 Cabinet Directive on Environmental Assessment of policy in Canada requires that all new federal policies and programs seeking Cabinet approval must consider their environmental implications. This provides an opportunity to apply CEA on a broader and perhaps more useful scale. Approaches are currently being developed; however, due to resource constraints in the public sector, it has not received the attention required to adequately advance its implementation.

Future initiatives at the national level will advance CEA practice by building on lessons learned from "case studies", and summarizing the growing body of assessment theory in support of CEA practice. The key is a broad dissemination of information that is targetted to both practitioners and decision-makers. This may include a second Bi-national workshop or conference on cumulative effects, and continued use of the internet to facilitate the transfer of information (e.g., through a Canadian CEA homepage and conferencing). These efforts could result in new training initiatives for administrators and consultants.

Perhaps the greatest long-term challenge will be the creation of regional land use committees and biophysical/land use databases to assist in the identification of cumulative effects thresholds. The success of CEA practice will ultimately rely on the guidance provided by such efforts, and ensure that the rapidly evolving consensus on CEA approaches can be effectively applied to ensure Canada's sustainable development goals are met. Approaches to assessment of policies and programs are on-going.