The future of EIA in Canada under the Harper Environment

Recently in Canada it has become clear that there is a battle brewing between the federal government and oil industry against the environment and the environmental impact assessment process specifically. Joe Oliver, Minister of Natural Resources, has recently accused environmental groups of receiving foreign funding and threatens to take away their charitable status if they speak out against oil projects (Paris, 2012). This can really stifle any meaningful debate if an NGO is fearful of their own existence. Oliver has been referring to environmentalists as ‘radicals’ in order to discredit them and get the Northern Gateway pipeline built (Paris, 2012). Bob Gibson, Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) expert, believes that the federal government is pushing to streamline the assessment process as well as reduce the instances where it applies (Paris, 2012). This means quickly approving projects in the oil sands and infrastructure for the pipeline, despite their potentially severe impacts. Stephen Harper and Joe Oliver have both made public comments that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process takes too long, has too much public input, and has a negative influence on economic development (Mining Watch, 2012). I wonder if they do not understand the whole fundamental point of EIA?

Arguments from the tar sands

The federal government was supposed to conduct a review of the CEAA in June 2010, but this did not start until October 2011 (Mining Watch, 2012). The review was much shorter than past reviews and allowed only condensed presentations and two days of notice for the commenting deadline (Mining Watch, 2012). The Harper government is expected to pass amendments to the CEAA which would exempt projects that cost under $10 million (Montreal Environment, 2012). This dangerously limits the scope of the federal EIA, and the federal government has already been to the Supreme Court after trying to split up projects into smaller parts to avoid assessment (Ecojustice, 2010). If this amendment is implemented, then there will be serious implications from not only individual projects, but the cumulative effects from many smaller projects over time. In addition to exempting projects, the amendment would implement a simplified regime for projects on crown lands, where many First Nations territories exist (Ecojustice, 2010). Maybe none of this should be surprising when it comes from a conservative government whose Prime Minister refers to the Keystone XL pipeline as something that is ‘obviously what’s in the best interests of not just of the Canadian economy but also the American economy’ (CBC, 2011).

What do Harper’s decisions mean for the reputation of Canada, and what does this mean for Canadian students of environmental impact assessment looking for jobs that may soon not exist? Only time will tell if this government will damage the EIA process and the environment irreversibly.


CBC. 2011. Harper ‘disappointed’ by Keystone pipeline delay. CBC news <accessed Feb. 17Th, 2012:>

Ecojustice. 2010. Supreme Court of Canada gives public a voice on major industrial projects – Court ensures meaningful environmental assessments across country. <accessed Feb. 18th, 2012:

Mining Watch Canada. 2012. ACTION ALERT: Canada’s Environmental Assessment Law Is Under Attack. <accessed Feb. 17Th, 2012:>

Montreal Environmental. 2012. Harper government to slacken the Environmental Impact Assessment Act. <accessed Feb. 17Th, 2012:>

Paris, M. 2012. Attack on ‘radicals’ sign of tougher federal strategy. CBC news <accessed Feb. 20Th, 2012: <>


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