20/20 Hindsight: Examining the challenges of implementing an SEA-type policy framework in Ottawa, Ontario
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Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is a policy tool for creating environmentally and socially responsible policies, plans and programs. This unconventional policy development tool presents challenges to governing bodies accustomed to traditional EIA-based processes of policy creation. Obstacles to the implementation of SEA-type policy frameworks at the level of municipalities in the province of Ontario, Canada are examined through analysis of two case studies. The Regional Municipality of York’s experiences with implementing SEA are used to present a generally positive example of policy development and implementation, while the City of Ottawa’s concurrent efforts in creating a sustainability-based policy environment serve to illustrate the pitfalls of developing unconventional policy using conventional methods. A forward-thinking and open-minded municipal government, such as is found in the York Region case, is found to be essential to the implementation of progressive policy measures such as SEA. It is also found that, in the Ottawa case study, failure to fully integrate the principles of SEA into all tiers of the City’s governance structure may have contributed to policy failure. Finally, the York Region case demonstrates the vital role played by both internal government figures and external players in driving policy implementation and ensuring the success of SEA-type policy.