The “Idle No More” movement demonstrates why public participation has developed in Environmental Impact Assessment

The “Idle No More” movement which began December 10th, 2013 highlights some inadequacies of how the government interacts with our citizens. I see comparisons between a need for meaningful participation in an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and a need for parliamentary discussion in regards to the passing of the omnibus bills and more specifically, C-45.  Although not a project that would require an EIA under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) 2012, this overarching change in legislation draws attention to the effects of insufficient participation in decision making.

Public participation which is a crucial tool in reducing environmental and social adverse impacts has long been recognized as a key component in attempting to maintain a healthy environment (Stewart and Sinclair, 2007). The largest environmental issue arising from Bill C-45 is that over 99% of Canadian lakes, rivers, and coastlines will no longer be protected under federal law (Ecojustice, 2012).  The growing “Idle No More” movement shows  that potential environmental impacts create a sense of risk, conflict, and public outcry from our people that should be reduced by adequate participation. The below clip from Inside Story America (2013) gives an overview of the movement:

World News 2013 – Inside Story Americas – Canada’s indigenous movement gains momentum

As with public participation in EIA (Stewart and Sinclair, 2007), Canadian aboriginal groups are discontent with the situation due to lack of information, lack of transparency, integrity, sincerity of the government, inclusiveness, fair and open dialogue, lack of involvement in decisions and questions of good faith . Although the majority of the discontent seen is by aboriginal people, this will affect all Canadians. One issue that arises from lack of public participation is conflict and this decision has resulted in the Canadian people being in conflict with the government and each other.

Resistance by non-consulted stakeholders is a common effect of lack of public participation. My hometown exists between the Gesgapegiag and Listiguj reserves of the Mi’gmaq people and I returned home during the beginning stages of the movement. I was shocked at the lack of knowledge and tension by non-Mi’gmaq people to the cause behind this movement even though they were affected throughout the 2012 Christmas season. Bystanders did not see the movement for what it was- a movement that affects us all.  This was a problem due to coverage of the movement all over Canada (Mills, 2013) where the only information received was when roads and bridges would be closed.  An example of their resistance is shown in the below clip of the Mi’gmaq movement in New Brunswick.

Idle No More – Flash Mob Campbellton, N.B.

Although the government state they are legally responsible, modernizing aboriginal relations and enabling economic growth with these changes, the impacts of not involving the appropriate individuals in decisions that affect our environment lead to conflict, legal challenges, a sense of risk and socially unacceptable outcomes; the result of which could have been reversed given the participation principles of access to information, public comment, adequate notice, and early stage/ meaningful consultation (Noble, 2010).  Therefore the use public participation in EIA is to avoid situations like this.


Ecojustice. 2012 . Bill C-45 and the Navigable Waters Protection Act (RSC 1985, C N-22)., October. Retrieved from

Mills, T. 2013. Lazy reporting on the Idle No More – MILLS. Saultstar, January 18.. Retrieved from–mills.

Noble, B. 2010. Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A Guide to Principles and Practices (2nd ed.), Oxford U. Press: NY.

Stewart, J. M. P. and A. J. Sinclair.  2007. Meaningful public participation in EA perspectives from Canadian participants, proponents and governments, Journal of EA Policy and management 9(2): 161-183.


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