A Fresh Perspective on the Supreme Court Ruling Regarding the Impact Assessment Act

Lawyers working for environmental groups have expressed agreement with the Liberal government’s stance that only minor adjustments are necessary to the Impact Assessment Act, despite the recent Supreme Court ruling that deemed the act in violation of the Constitution due to federal overreach. The court emphasized that while certain aspects of the act exceeded the authority of Parliament, the federal government still retains a broad jurisdiction over conducting environmental assessments.

The Alberta government had taken the law to the Supreme Court, fearing that it would put an end to major project approvals, thus earning the moniker “no more pipelines” act. The legislation aimed to expand Ottawa’s role in assessing significant projects, encompassing considerations such as downstream emissions, climate objectives, gender impacts, and Indigenous traditional knowledge.

In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the Alberta Court of Appeal’s ruling that the act went beyond the constitutional powers of the federal government. Chief Justice Richard Wagner emphasized the importance of safeguarding the division of powers laid out in the Constitution while addressing the pressing challenge of environmental protection.

Although Ottawa has maintained an environmental assessment process for many years, the Liberal government extended the scope of federal assessments to include projects that fell solely within provincial boundaries but were deemed to have wider impacts. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith welcomed the court’s ruling as a reminder to the federal government of its jurisdictional limits and urged them to revise the legislation accordingly.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson expressed confidence that only minor adjustments are necessary to address the concerns raised by the Supreme Court. He emphasized the need for clarity to ensure the timely approval of critical mineral mines and other important projects.


Q: What was the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Impact Assessment Act?
The Supreme Court ruled that while certain aspects of the act overstepped federal jurisdiction, the federal government retains broad authority to conduct environmental assessments.

Q: What changes did the Impact Assessment Act seek to implement?
The act aimed to expand the federal government’s role in assessing major projects, including considerations of downstream emissions, climate targets, gender impacts, and Indigenous traditional knowledge.

Q: What was the concern raised by the Alberta government?
The Alberta government was concerned that the act would obstruct the approval of major projects, such as pipelines, with potential impacts on natural resource development and electricity within the province.

Q: What adjustments does the federal government plan to make?
The federal government anticipates making minor changes to address the Supreme Court’s concerns and ensure clarity for critical projects, including mineral mining ventures.