CEAA 2012: A Helping Hand for the Northern Gateway Approval

In 2012, Richard Morgan released an article warning of the negative implications that the global recession would have for environmental impact assessment (EIA)[1]. A few months later, Stephen Harper introduced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) 2012, confirming Morgan’s fears [2].

CEAA 2012 was brought forth under the omnibus bill C-38. Bill C-38 was tabled by the Conservatives without prior notice by way of a technical briefing [3]. The bill was introduced during a period of public debate concerning two major pipeline projects: the Keystone XL pipeline and the Northern Gateway pipeline. The Conservatives used public concern about the global recession to argue that these projects were crucial to safeguarding Canada’s economy. Bill C-38 is an aggressive motion focused on advancing the Conservative agenda. This is best outlined by Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, in an address to Parliament.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act (Bill C-38)[4].

However, the Keystone XL pipeline was blocked by U.S. President Barack Obama, seemingly as part of his campaign strategy, citing environmental concerns. Nonetheless, the Northern Gateway project had been under EIA review since 2006 and is currently in its final hearing. The Northern Gateway pipeline is a $6 billion project by Enbridge Inc. which plans to transport diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands to Kitimat B.C. in order to be transported to Asian markets [5].  With Stephen Harper’s newly implemented CEAA 2012, the review panel conducting the EIA will have to continue the process with the new, less stringent, provisions of CEAA 2012 [6].

CEAA 2012 was put in place by the Conservatives in order to streamline projects just like the Northern Gateway pipeline, which represent lucrative benefits for the Canadian federal and provincial governments. These benefits amount to $81 billion according to Enbridge estimates [5]. However, the project is also opposed by environmental groups for the potential adverse impacts it holds for the environment. Enbridge has a history of oil spills (i.e. Kalamazoo River). The following video is a graphic depiction of the adverse impacts that past Enbridge oil spills have had on the human and natural environment. These are the inherent risks associated with the Northern Gateway pipeline.

BC’s huge gamble: Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline [7].

With the EIA of the Northern Gateway pipeline now following the provisions of CEAA 2012, the federal government has placed a drop-dead date for the submission of the review panel’s report. The EIA report must be submitted to the Minister of the Environment no later than December 31st, 2013 or the EIA process is nullified and the federal government can approve the Northern Gateway Project without recommendation from the review panel [8].

The political tactics that Stephen Harper has used thus far in order to push this legislation through the House of Commons has been borderline undemocratic. His goal of streamlining lucrative developments through the EIA process will perhaps meet its first landmark EIA recommendation with the review panel’s assessment of the Northern Gateway pipeline. The success of this project is important to the Conservatives in strengthening their new economic alliance with China (Investment Treaty). The following video shows MP Nathan Cullen offering his opinion on Northern Gateway project and its associated EIA process.

MP Nathan Cullen on Enbridge Northern Gateway [9].

Five years prior to the dismantling of the previous CEAA, an article was published critiquing the regulatory and approval processes for pipeline projects in Canada. The authors concluded that there were deficiencies in the process and that out of 14 best-practice criteria, only 3 were fully met [10]. If this was the measure of the EIA process before the CEAA 2012, the future does not look good for EIA and the development of Canada’s energy resources with the Conservative government in power.


  1. Morgan, R.K. (2012). Environmental impact assessment: The state of the art. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 30(1), 5-14.
  2. Gibson, R. B. (2012). In full retreat: The Canadian government’s new environmental assessment law undoes decades of progress. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 30(3), 179-188.
  3. May, E. (2012, May 17). Budget 2012: Environmental laws run over by an omnibus. Island Tides. Accessed Oct. 13, 2012: http://elizabethmaymp.ca/news/publications/articles/2012/05/17/budget-2012-environmental-laws-run-over-by-an-omnibus/
  4. May, E. (2012, May 11). Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act (Bill C-38) [Video file]. Accessed Oct. 13, 2012: http://elizabethmaymp.ca/parliament/speeches/2012/05/11/jobs-growth-and-long-term-prosperity-act-bill-c-38-20/
  5. Moore, D. (2012, October 9). Environmental assessment hearing on Northern Gateway pipeline return to BC. Winnipeg Free Press. Accessed Oct. 13, 2012: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/environmental-assessment-hearings-on-northern-gateway-pipeline-return-to-bc-173241071.html
  6. Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Overview: Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. Accessed Oct. 13, 2012: http://www.ceaa.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=16254939-1.
  7. Ogilvie, C. (2012, Feb. 6). BC’s huge gamble – Short film – Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline [Video file]. Accessed Oct. 12, 2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgvY6zBc3q4
  8. Proussalidis, D. (2012, October 3). New drop-dead date for Northern Gateway pipeline decision. The Toronto Sun. Accessed Oct. 13, 2012: http://www.torontosun.com/2012/08/03/new-drop-dead-date-for-northern-gateway-pipeline-review-decision
  9. Cullen, N. (2011, Feb. 1). MP Nathan Cullen on Enbridge Northern Gateway [Video file]. Accessed Oct. 13, 2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3cgxcBr_M0
  10. Van Hinte, T., Gunton, T. I., & Day, J.C. (2007). Evaluation of the assessment process for major projects: A case study of oil and gas pipelines in Canada. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 25(2), 123-137

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