What is TransCanada’s public participation strategy in Quebec?

[…] to conflate the opening of a browser window with helping to put up yard signs under the single rubric “participation” […] is not only to denigrate actual participation but to promote notions of participation that could easily undermine the very idea. (Unless, the cynic in me wonders, that’s the intention.)” D. Wood [1]

Public participation is required as part of any EIA performed in Canada. However the extent to which it is practiced in a meaningful manner is another story; as described by Arnstein, it can range from manipulation to citizen control. For effective participation, Arnstein argues that we should completely avoid tokenism (and the No power, of course).[2]

http://www.georgejulian.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Arnsteins-ladder-1969-cropped.jpg” alt=”Arnstein Ladder of public participation” />

One of the most important pipeline projects -the Energy East Pipeline project by TransCanada – is currently undergoing an EIA process. Because the project would cross many provincial borders, it has triggered a Federal EIA, but provinces can require the company to comply with their own sets of requirements before allowing the project to go ahead on their lands. The consultation process has already started in Ontario [3], but it hasn’t yet started in Quebec. TransCanada has not provided the necessary information to the BAPE (Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement) andas of February 5, 2015 the BAPE has not been mandated by the Quebec government to perform public consultations [4].

An article by Alexandre Shields (Le Devoir, January 9, 2015) outlined the non-existence of a French version of the documents submitted to the National Energy Board (NEB) relative to the Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed pipeline. The author reported that the NEB (the responsible authority for the project) would not require the proponent to translate the document and would not translate it itself either [5]. This situation is appalling considering the fact that a portion of the pipeline would go through the province of Quebec and that only 36.1% of Quebec’s population (whose first language is French) is bilingual [6]. How can the public properly participate in such a situation? The NEB argues that the information provided on TransCanada’s website is sufficient for the francophones to understand the extent of the project, but as Alexander Shields mentions, the information on the proponent’s website is not verified by the NEB and therefore its exactness cannot be guaranteed [5]. In addition, as is argued by Wood (2010), a critical geographer, displaying information on the web is only suitable for passive public and should never be labeled public participation [7].

Source: EcoWatch - Southern portion of Keystone XL pipeline

The question I ask then is: Considering the heated debate over oil production in Quebec, does TransCanada want to shut down Quebecer’s voices?

The Energy East public relations’ strategy to convince Quebecers to adopt the pipeline despite strong initial opposition was initially based on promotion of the merits of the pipeline. The public relations company, Edelman, stated in their Strategic Plan for Quebec that:

“At first, Québécois are unfamiliar with oil as an energy resource. Myth and misgivings are even more present when it comes to oil from Alberta’s oils sands, which are also closely associated with Stephen Harper’s government and policies. Education on the subject is thus highly required.” [8](p.17)

As a result, it would seem to be in the company’s interest to display information as transparently as possible and to disseminate information as widely as possible so that the public is aware of their efforts to understand the impact of the pipeline on the environment, as well as their effort to mitigate the impacts where possible. It looks like instead, TransCanada intends to simply display information, and not necessarily in a transparent way. Not more. This can hardly be called public participation.


[1] Wood, D. (2010). Rethinking the Power of Maps. The Guilford Press, New York, London: 161.

[2] Noble, B.F. (2010). Chapter 11: Public Participation in EIA, in Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment – A Guide to Principles and Practice, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, Canada: 184.

[3] Ontario Energy Board, Energy East Consultation and Review. http://www.ontarioenergyboard.ca/html/oebenergyeast/EEindex.cfm#.VNORyp2G-8A

[4] Shields, Alexandre (January 20, 2015). Retard majeur au Québec, Le Devoir.  http://www.ledevoir.com/environnement/actualites-sur-l-environnement/429362/energie-est-retard-majeur-au-quebec

[5] Shields, Alexandre (January 9, 2015). Pas de documents en français pour Énergie Est, Le Devoir.  http://www.ledevoir.com/environnement/actualites-sur-l-environnement/428516/one-pas-de-documents-en-francais-pour-energie-est

[6] Secrétariat à la Politique Linguistique, Québec. Tableau: Population bilingue (français et anglais), Québec. La dynamique des langues en quelques chiffres. Gouvernement du Québec, 2009. Retrieved at:  http://www.spl.gouv.qc.ca/documentation/rapportssondagesstatistiques/dynamiquedeslangues/tableaux/

[7] Wood, D. (2010). Rethinking the Power of Maps. The Guilford Press, New York, London: 156-171.

[8] Edelman. (May 20, 2014). Strategic Plan: Quebec – Energy East Pipeline, Calgary, p.17. Retrieved on January 15, 2015 from http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/Global/canada/file/2014/11/TC%20Energy%20East%20Quebec%20Plan.pdf