A Zombie EIA process in Quebec ?

The economic downturn which started in 2008 has now lasted for a number of years. To counter the effects of the recession, the recently elected Liberal government in Quebec has decided to take measures to cut so-called redundant spending and create jobs.

With the latter objective in mind, two major projects have recently received approval. The first is the McInnis Cement Plant in Port-Daniel, Gaspésie.

Plan of McInnis Cement Plant, Port-Daniel, Gaspésie

This project, partially funded by the government, will create about 400 permanent jobs [1] in a region with few job opportunities, but will also be a major source of greenhouse gas pollution. This cement plan was a priority for the previous government, and it seems to be a priority for the current government as well. In fact, the Couillard government has introduced Bill 37 to allow the project to be exempted from a review by the BAPE (Bureau d’Audiences Publique en Environnement), because of threats from the proponent to pull out if the project would have to go through this more extensive process [2]. It should be noted that the construction of the plant had already started before the introduction of Bill 37. How then can the BAPE influence the design of the project?  As you will see in this short news coverage (in French only) by Radio-Canada [3], there are a number of legal issues related to this project, but some of the environmental concerns were arguably “dissipated” through mediation between the proponent and environmental organizations. Is that enough considering the lack of transparency in the process?

The second major project is the Arnaud Mine in Sept-Îles, Quebec. This mine will extract apatite, a mineral used in the production of fertilizers and create about 330 permanent jobs [5]. The Couillard government has announced that the Arnaud mine project would go forward (with 10 additional conditions) on March 16, 2015, about one year after a review of the project by the BAPE [6]. In 2014, the BAPE had declared in a report that in its current form, the project was unacceptable, mainly because of risks of groundwater contamination, health, noise, and air quality issues, and a lack of social acceptability of the project (division within the community) [7]. From the information available, since the initial review of the project by the BAPE, the proponent has not submitted a revised version of the project.

Protest against the Mine Arnaud project, Sept-ÎlesProtest to support the Mine Arnaud project, Sept-Îles

These two examples show the little regard the government has towards the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process and the little impact EIA reports have on decisions. Are we going back to treating the EIA process as a hindrance to development?

“Je ne sacrifierai pas une seule job dans la forêt pour le caribou”
Phillipe Couillard, Quebec Prime Minister [8]

This quote from the Quebec prime minister demonstrates that the government puts a higher value on job creation and short-term growth than on sustainable development or any environmental concern. This philosophy has led the government to bypass its own legislation, as seen especially in the McInnis cement plant case, and to ignore recommendations by its independent panel of experts in the environmental field (BAPE). This behavior and discourse will likely decrease the confidence citizens have in the EIA process in general and lead to further pessimism towards governments [9].

Maybe it is time for governments to create a long-term plan for the future and to stop opposing economics and environment. We need to have a vision as a society to focus governmental policies. In the meantime, a number of actions should be undertaken to strengthen the EIA process. First, we need to give legislative power to the BAPE, so that they have means to implement their recommendations. Second, we should systematically consider the “no-project” alternative when evaluating projects.

Sources :

[1] Radio-Canada (2014). Port-Daniel aura sa cimenterie. Ici Radio-CanadaLast update: June 2nd, 2014. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/est-quebec/2014/06/02/001-cimenterie-port-daniel-gouvernement-couillard.shtml

[2] Shields, Alexandre. (2015). La cimenterie de Port-Daniel échappera définitivement au BAPE. Le Devoir. Actualités sur l’environnement. 19 février 2015. http://www.ledevoir.com/environnement/actualites-sur-l-environnement/432213/la-cimenterie-de-port-daniel-echappera-definitivement-au-bape

[3] Biron, Martine. (2015). Cimenterie de Port-Daniel-Gascons : Québec veut éliminer toute entrave au projet. Ici Radio-Canada. Last update: February 18, 2015. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/politique/2015/02/18/005-cimenterie-port-daniel-projet-loi-quebec-eviter-bape.shtml

[4] Corbeil, Michel (2015). Feu vert à Mine Arnaud. Le Soleil. March 13. 2015. http://www.lapresse.ca/le-soleil/affaires/les-regions/201503/12/01-4851720-feu-vert-a-mine-arnaud.php

[5] (2011). Mine Arnaud: Un projet de diversification économique. http://www.minearnaud.com/fr/benefices/

[6] Radio-Canada (2015). Feu vert à Mine Arnaud. Ici Radio-Canada. Last update: March 16, 2015. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/est-quebec/2015/03/16/002-mine-arnaud-annonce-sept-iles.shtml

[7] Québec Meilleure Mine (2014). Conclusion historique par le BAPE: Projet Mine Arnaud à Sept-Îles jugé “inacceptable”. Mining Watch Canada. Last update: http://www.miningwatch.ca/fr/news/conclusion-historique-par-le-bape-projet-mine-arnaud-sept-les-jug-inacceptable

[8] Côté, Charles (2014). Bras de fer en vue sur le caribou. La Presse. Last update: April 28, 2014. http://www.lapresse.ca/environnement/especes-en-danger/201404/28/01-4761476-bras-de-fer-en-vue-sur-le-caribou.php

[9] Morissette, Samuel. (2013). Les parlementaires de l’Assemblée nationale et le cynisme envers la politique: Entre la réalité politique et l’utopie démocratique. Fondation Jean-Charles-Bonenfant, Assemblée nationale du Québec. 42 pages. Retrieved at: http://www.fondationbonenfant.qc.ca/stages/documents/Essai_SamuelMorrissette.pdf


McInnis Cement Plant: http://argent.canoe.ca/nouvelles/les-desmarais-et-les-beaudoin-saffronteront-dans-le-ciment-17102013

Protest against the Mine Arnaud Project: http://tvanouvelles.ca/lcn/infos/regional/estduquebec/archives/2013/09/20130921-171034.html

Demonstration to support the Mine Arnaud Project: http://tvanouvelles.ca/lcn/infos/regional/estduquebec/archives/2014/03/20140314-202740.html

Sustainability: What’s that supposed to mean?

The Importance of Water

Humankind is entirely dependent on water, including for energy. “Water and energy are strongly interlinked: water is required to produce, transport and use all forms of energy to some degree” (UNESCO, 2014, p.12).

Created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Water Development Report (WWDR) ranked Canada among the richest countries in the world for water (UNESCO, 2014). However, this allows for an energy policy that further permits the production of Canadian oil-sands in Alberta, resulting in large amounts of carbon emissions and water use, a policy of which is unsustainable. See the video below for a short explanation of the Alberta oil sands production process.


According to Environment Canada (2014), sustainability is “about improving the standard of living by protecting human health, conserving the environment, using resources efficiently…It requires the integration of environmental, economic and social priorities into policies and programs and requires action at all levels – citizens, industry, and governments.” It follows that “using resources efficiently” and “action” from citizens are important parts of energy policy development. If this is what is meant by sustainability, though, I have problems understanding the relevance of its emphasis throughout Government documents.

The democratic process ceases to exist at the policy level, for example, in Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) sees SEA as a method to evaluate Canadian Energy Policies (CEAA, 2014). According to the CEAA (2014), there are no SEAs that exist at this time nor have there ever been any, regarding Canada’s energy policy. This is not sustainable, since incorporating citizen action at the policy level, according to Environment Canada’s own definition of sustainable, is virtually non-existent.

Oil-sands development has some of the most adverse effects. According to David Harvey of the University of Toronto: “Tar sands oil entails 5-60% more greenhouse gas emissions on a life-cycle basis than conventional oil” (ForestEthics, 2013, p.6).

According to the Canadian Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP), in 2012, the Alberta oil-sands operations alone produced 50,285,958.95 tons/CO2eq. Comparatively, the entire province of Quebec produced 17,765,573 tons/CO2eq for the same year. Furthermore, in Canada, it takes about 7-10 M3 of water to produce 1 M3 of Bitumen, the raw oil-sand from Alberta that still requires further processing into crude oil, which itself requires more energy (NRCAN, 2014). This is not sustainable, since it takes about 7-10 times the amount of water to produce 1 unit (barrel, gallon, litre, etc.) of oil. This is not using resources efficiently.

Even a Life-Cycle Assessment shows treatment disparity between conventional energy (fossil fuels), nuclear and renewables (Ecolateral, 2014).

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 3.44.44 PM

Sustainability is more like “sustainability”. It is clear that Canadian energy policies do not live up to Canada’s own definition of sustainability, not only by erosion of the democratic process but also by way of one of the most inefficient uses of one of the most precious resources in the world: water, on which all of humankind depends. This is compounded by the exponentially increasing amount of carbon entering the atmosphere every day, the air you and I breath. In any sense of the definition, how does this sound sustainable and in light of these facts, how can we truly believe that our Government is handling our resources in the most sustainable fashion?

For more information on the current politics of fossil-fuel development, please visit:



Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. 2014. The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. Accessed on January 8th, 2014. Available from: https://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=B3186435-1

Environment Canada, 2014. Facility GHG emissions by province/territory.

Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from: http://www.ec.gc.ca/ges-ghg/donnees-data/index.cfm?do=province&lang=En&year=2012.

Environment Canada, 2014. Sustainable Development. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from: http://www.ec.gc.ca/dd-sd/

ForestEthics Advocacy, 2013. Who writes the rules? A Report on Oil Industry Influence, Government Laws, and the corrosion of Public Process.

Natural Resources Canada, 2014. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/oil-sands/water-management/5865.

Oil Sands Information Portal, 2014. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from: http://osip.alberta.ca/library/Dataset/Details/443.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2014. The United Nations World Water Development Report: Water and Energy. (1).

New Prosperity – Same Old Result: Revisiting Taseko’s Gold-Copper Mine Proposal

Two years ago, another MEnv student wrote about the Prosperity mine in British Columbia. This was a mining project which was approved in the BC provincial environmental assessment process in 2009 but rejected in the federal process. Within the post, the student writes “an in depth comparison shall be necessary once the environmental impact assessment is officially completed under the CEAA 2012”, and two years later, the results are in! In February 2012, a decision statement was issued by the Canadian Minister of the Environment, Leona Aglukkaq, stating that Taseko (the proponent) once again would not be granted permission for development [1]. After reviewing and writing a 7000 word paper on the most recent environmental impact statement submitted to the review panel by Taseko, it was not surprising to me why their project was denied approval.

Taseko attempted to deal with the concerns raised in 2009 about fish habitat by implementing new mitigation measures to preserve some of the habitat which originally would have been destroyed, explained through this video.

If you’re pressed for time, skip ahead to 5:40 where Taseko claims that their tailings pond will create suitable habitat for fish. Unfortunately for Taseko, much of the science underpinning this claim came into question during the review process. A study of the project’s tailings storage facility launched by Natural Resources Canada found a seepage rate eleven times higher than the predicted values in the environmental assessment [2].

Taseko have also failed to obtain free, prior, and informed consent from First Nations within the region, something considered to be part of best practice in mining [3]. The mitigation measures implemented by Taseko in their New Prosperity proposal did not do enough to convince the Tsilhqot’in First Nations that the project is safe. This was exemplified by Chief William who stated that “the Tsilhqot’in Nation remains unified in its opposition to this project because of the tremendous destruction it would mean for critical traditional lands and waters and the cultural survival of the Tsilhqot’in people”[4].  The Tsilhqot’in made history in 2014 when the Supreme Court of Canada upheld its land title claim to 1700 square kilometers [5]. Making the matter even more confusing is that the granted land claim shows that the New Prosperity mine is not directly on Tsilhqot’in territory, leading Taseko to believe their project should now move forward [6]. This is an example of how an overarching agreement, such as the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) in Quebec, between government and First Nations, would not only benefit private industry but also help in protecting the traditions and cultures of First Nations.

Tsilhqot’in protest the Prosperity mine

New Prosperity is an example of a project which is a risk to the environment. Questionable science has been used, and I believe the proper decision was made. However, like a child who won’t take no for an answer, Taseko is filing a lawsuit against the federal government. They are seeking damages for the rejection of their project. The legitimacy of EIA might be questioned if a project is rejected and companies receive damages for money spent on projects prior to approval. As Tim Timberg, lawyer for the federal Environment Minister put it, “the real remedy Taseko seeks remains the same – to quash these administrative decisions and allow them to proceed with the construction of the proposed mine” [7]. This mining project is not only important for the area where it will be built, but also will speak volumes about the legitimacy and integrity of environmental assessment in Canada. Will Taseko be granted another chance for approval due to their increasing legal pressures on the federal government? Only time will tell…


[1] Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. (2014, February 25). Decision Statement Issued under Section 54 of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/document-eng.cfm?document=98458

[2] Natural Resources Canada. (2013, July 4). Numerical Modeling of Groundwater Seepage from the Tailings Storage Facility of the Proposed Taseko New Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine Project. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p63928/90733E.pdf

[3] International Council on Mining and Metals. (2015). 10 Principles. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.icmm.com/our-work/sustainable-development-framework/10-principles

[4] Zilker, Wolfgang. (2013, June 20). Tsilhqot’in Nation Prepares for Public Hearings for Controversial New Prosperity Mine Proposal as Taseko Mines Ltd. Refuses to Answer Direct Requests from the Panel. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.protectfishlake.ca/letters/2013-06/tsilhqot-146-in-nation-prepares-for-public-hearings-for-controversial-new-prosperity-mine-proposal-as-taseko-mines-ltd-refuses-to-answer-direct-requests-from-the-panel.php

[5] CBC News. (2014, June 26). Tsilhqot’in First Nation granted B.C. title claim in Supreme Court ruling. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/tsilhqot-in-first-nation-granted-b-c-title-claim-in-supreme-court-ruling-1.2688332

[6] Klein, Greg. (2014, June 26). Taseko Says Land Claims Ruling Shows New Prosperity Outside Aboriginal Territory. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://resourceclips.com/2014/06/26/taseko-says-land-claims-ruling-shows-new-prosperity-outside-aboriginal-territory/

[7] Moore, Dene. (2014, October 22). Taseko says Environment Minister’s rejection of B.C. mine improper. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/taseko-says-environment-ministers-rejection-of-bc-mine-improper/article21250492/

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

A Case for Cumulative Effects Assessments in Protecting Caribou Populations

Despite being an unassailable cultural icon in Canada and enjoying a broad geographic spread, the North American caribou (Rangifer tarandus) faces many challenges to its long-term survival. Indeed, as of November, 2014, the majority of caribou subspecies have been listed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern under the Species at Risk Act[1] and continue to exhibit declining population trends outside of natural fluctuations[2]. As can be seen in the following illustration, every subspecies aside from barren-ground caribou and certain ecotypes of woodland caribou have been given special status, yet all herds suffer from a receding historical range[2]:

Distribution and Status of Caribou Subspecies in Canada

One major factor contributing to this decline is the large-scale disturbance to high-quality caribou habitats from development projects[3][4]. Although the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process is intended to minimize or avoid a project’s potential environmental impacts prior to implementation, it has not proven to be exceedingly effective in predicting or mitigating impacts on caribou populations due to its narrow, project-based approach[5]. Instead, more comprehensive practices such as cumulative effects assessments (CEAs) must be employed so the interactions between proposed activities and specialized, migratory species like caribou can be adequately understood.

Typically, a zone of influence around a project is demarcated in order to assess the spatiotemporal extent of its disturbances on caribou populations[4]. This approach, however, implicitly assumes that disturbances are isolated to a single project and neglects the interaction of effects from multiple projects and stressors in the region which combine to inflate the initial zone of influence and magnify its impacts. Properly assessing a project’s true zone of influence is essential for accurate impact predictions as caribou will often exhibit an avoidance response when encountering a zone of influence, whereby they alter their behaviour, distribution, or selection of suitable habitats[4]. Some observed avoidance responses have been so severe that caribou populations like the woodland caribou in northern Alberta have avoided high-quality habitats 1 km near oil and gas wells, equivalent to a 22-48% loss in available habitat[4]. Pictured below is an example of a suitable boreal habitat that could be abandoned by caribou if cumulative disturbances in the region are too great[6].

Caribou Entering Boreal Forest Habitat

Negative impacts on caribou populations are not always so linear either. A study by Beauchesne et al. (2014) showed that woodland caribou responded to an increase in cumulative anthropogenic disturbances by expanding their home ranges, a behaviour shift which resulted in greater energy expenditures and risk of exposure to predators[3]. These kinds of indirect effects generally occur outside the scope of an individual project yet they still interact to endanger caribou population persistence. Similarly, Frid and Dill (2002) provide a simple model that depicts how effects like disturbances and predation encounters displace caribou from preferred habitats and create a cascading response that indirectly affects population size[7].

Model of Indirect Effects on Caribou Population Size

Given the complexity of population dynamics then, the simpler project-based approach to impact prediction and evaluation should be relegated to smaller projects that do not infringe upon caribou habitats. CEA is currently the most viable tool to address the myriad of spatiotemporal factors at the landscape level, and, while often criticized for being ineffective[4], it has great potential for improvement. One suggestion to render CEAs more effective is to establish cumulative effect thresholds that are incorporated into the approval process for industrial activity occurring within caribou ranges[5]. As of yet though, no such thresholds exist within any jurisdiction in Canada[5].


[1]Environment Canada. (2014). Species at Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c.29). Ottawa, ON: Minister of Justice.

[2]Gunn, A., Russell, D., and J. Eamer. (2011). Northern caribou population trends in Canada. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 10. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers.

[3]Beauchesne, D., Jaeger, J.A.G., and M. St-Laurent. (2014). Thresholds in the capacity of boreal caribou to cope with cumulative disturbances: Evidence from space use patterns. Biological Conservation, 172, 190-199. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2014.03.002

[4]Johnson, C.J., and M. St-Laurent. (2011). Unifying Framework for Understanding Impacts of Human Developments on Wildlife. In D.E. Naugle (Ed.), Energy Development and Wildlife Conservation in Western North America (pp. 27-54). Washington, DC: Island Press.

[5]Anderson, R.B., Dyer, S.J., Francis, S.R., and E.M. Anderson. (2002). Development of a Threshold Approach for Assessing Industrial Impacts on Woodland Caribou in the Yukon. Whitehorse, YT: Applied Ecosystem Management Ltd.

[6]Youds, M. (December 26, 2013). Mountain Caribou Face Uncertain Future [Article]. Retrieved from http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Mountain+caribou+face+uncertain+future/9325826/story.html

[7]Frid, A., and L. Dill. (2002). Human-caused Disturbance Stimuli as a Form of Predation Risk. Conservation Ecology, 6(1): 11.

The weakening of Canada’s environmental protection laws – an obsolete NAFTA to blame?

On 27 January 2015, the Council for the Commission of Environmental Cooperation (CEC), NAFTA’s environmental arm, unanimously elected to prevent an investigation meant to assess Canada’s poor environmental management record as it pertains to the continuous leaking of tailings ponds into the Athabasca River1. Two non-governmental organizations and three private citizens filed the complaint with the CEC in September 2010, alluding to the federal government’s failure at enforcing the Federal Fisheries Act1.

Dale Marshall, National Energy Program Manager with Environmental Defence, explains2:


“The blow is to the people who are being affected by toxic pollution and whose government just turned their back on” Dale Marshall, Environmental Defence2

The CEC’s recent decision to thwart public scrutiny of an ecologically devastating issue of long date is the third occurrence of its kind within the last year3. The irresponsibility, lack of transparency, and political biases introduced by the inability of NAFTA’s signatories to see this investigation through hints not only at the federal government’s conflict of interests with the tar sands industry, but also at NAFTA’s growing ineptitude and obsolescence with respect to the enforcement of existing environmental laws in Canada.

Established in the wake of NAFTA’s inception in 1994, the CEC is a tripartite inter-jurisdictional review body mandated to support the protection, conservation, and enhancement of environmental concerns4,5. It does so through the production of citizen- and NGO-driven inquiries, called factual records, into Canadian, Mexican or American governmental behaviours deemed neglectful of their environmental policies5. The CEC was created as a safeguard to ensure the free trade agreement did not result in the creation of pollution havens, a race-to-the-bottom for environmental standards, and an increase in environmental impacts6.

As multiple examples suggest, however, NAFTA is riddled with inherent weaknesses which, taken together, have strongly contributed to the regressive environmental platform that now typifies the federal Canadian context.

Alberta’s booming oil and gas industry is the poster child of post-NAFTA economic growth in Canada, with industry pressures routinely exerting their stronghold over Canadian federal policy direction. The budget cuts of 2009, 2010, and 2012, introduced under alluring aliases like Jobs and Growth, have repeatedly gutted key environmental acts, introducing changes that proposed the elimination of the “legal protection of navigation on 99 per cent of Canada’s lakes and rivers”7, that exempt “certain pipeline projects from the requirement to respect reasonable measures to protect critical habitat of species protected under SARA [Species At Risk Act]”6, that have weakened the CEAA, and that eased tolerable levels of harm incurred to fish or fish habitat as per the Federal Fisheries Act6. Canada formally abandoned its Kyoto obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in 20116, and repealed the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act in 20127. Environment Canada’s overall funds were cut by nearly 30 per cent by the 2014 budget8.

The CEC’s decision thus comes with much frustration but as no surprise. In its twenty years of generating factual records, the CEC has put forth 29 votes on petitions9. Only five of those votes resulted in the outright rejection of an investigation – three of which have befallen Canadian practices in the last 12 months10. In 2014, motions registered with the CEC to report on the lack of protection of polar bears under the Species at Risk Act and on the violation of the Federal Fisheries Act through harmful fish farming practices off the coast of British Columbia were successfully vetoed with the same nonchalance seen with the Alberta tailings case10. Perhaps the time has come to recognize the obsolescence of our trade agreements, their affiliate organizations, and the policy space they occupy.



1 Commission for Environmental Cooperation. Alberta Tailings Ponds. Registry of Submissions. Update 27 January 2015. Available from http://www.cec.org/Page.asp?PageID=2001&ContentID=2864 Accessed 8 February 2015

2 Global News. NAFTA Watchdog Won’t Investigate Oilsands. Released on 29 January 2015. Available from http://globalnews.ca/video/1801750/nafta-watchdog-wont-investigate-oilsands/ Accessed on 8 February 2015.

3 Schindler, D.W. (2014). Unravelling the complexity of pollution by the oil sands industry. Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Science, 111(9), 3209-3210.

4 Garver, G. & Podhora, A. (2008). Transboundary Environmental Impact Assessment as Part of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 26(4), 253-263.

5 Commission for Environmental Cooperation. (2014). About the CEC. Available from http://www.cec.org/Page.asp?PageID=1226&SiteNodeID=310&BL_ExpandID=878 Accessed on 8 February 2015.

6 Garver, G. (n.d.). Forgotten Promises: Neglected Environmental Provisions of the NAFTA and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation. Available from www.cec.org/Storage/150/17599_NAFTA_book_chapter.docx Accessed 8 February 2015.

7 Johnston, A. Canada Gutting its International Reputation Along with its Environmental Laws. West Coast Environmental Law. Posted on 14 November 2013. Available from http://wcel.org/resources/environmental-law-alert/canada-gutting-its-international-reputation-along-its-environmenta Accessed 8 February 2015.

8 Nikiforuk, N. Facing Millions in Cuts, Environment Canada Prepares to Get Lean. The Tyee. Posted on 15 March 2014. Available from http://thetyee.ca/News/2014/03/15/Environment-Canada-Cuts/ Accessed on 8 February 2015.

9 Skene, J. (2015). Failure to Investigate Tailings Ponds Sends the Wrong Signals on NAFTA Environmental Oversight. Tar Sands Solution Network. Available from http://tarsandssolutions.org/member-blogs/failure-to-investigate-tailings-ponds-sends-the-wrong-signals-on-nafta-envi Accessed 8 February 2015.

10 McDiarmid, M. NAFTA scrutiny of oilsands tailings ponds opposed by Canada. CBC News, Politics. Posted on 12 January 2015. Available from http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/nafta-scrutiny-of-oilsands-tailings-ponds-opposed-by-canada-1.2896100 Accessed on 8 February 2015.

11 Libby, H. & Linnitt, C. (2013). Fort McMurray, Home to 176 Square km of Tar Sands Tailings Ponds, Overwhelmed by Floods. Desmog Canada. Available here http://www.desmog.ca/2013/06/11/fort-mcmurray-home-176-square-km-tar-sands-tailings-ponds-overwhelmed-floods Accessed 9 February 2015.

Sacrificing the Environment: Effects of the Canadian Environment Assessment Act 2012 on The Enbridge Pipeline 9B Reversal

By Wills Tobin,

Formerly, Enbridge pipeline 9B sent oil from Montreal, Quebec to Sarnia, Ontario. An approval on March 6, 2014 has allowed Enbridge Pipelines to reverse oil direction and capacity towards Montreal, QC. The National Energy Board’s approval is a fundamental example of the extent to which EIA processes in Canada have eroded because of the Bill C-38 adoption in June 2012. More insight on this:

In bill C-38, The Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA 2012) changed drastically. The Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC) facilitated changes in the act through lobbying representatives and members of Government (Forest Ethics, 2013). The EPIC mandate is to “…provide the foundations…for energy and environmental policy”(Forest Ethics, 2013, p. 1). As the conservative Government argued that the CEAA 2012 amendment was simply to streamline and reduce duplication, the effects of legislation have been negatively influential on the line 9B project (EPIC, 2012).

Scoping Line 9B

Due to the CEAA 2012, in the Line 9B reversal, The NEB (National Energy Board) stated that it would not consider environmental or socio-economic effects not directly associated with the reversal of the pipeline (Forest Ethics, 2013; David Suzuki Foundation, 2012; Gage, 2012). This has had a negative effect on the scope of the project. Scoping is critical because its purpose is to identify scientific and public core values so indirect and cumulative impacts are not over-looked, especially when it comes to major oil and gas infrastructure, which should always require comprehensive studies (Noble, 2010).

Monitoring Line 9B

According to Forest Ethics (2013), “once a decision is made for a given project, the NEB will not revoke permits, even if subsequent analyses show adverse environmental effects (p. 7).” The NEB also stated that monitoring should only have to be done at the beginning of the EIA process and not require continued follow-ups (NEB, 2013). The pipeline is 38 years old and it is worrisome that it may rupture if its carrying capacity is increased. There is a fear about pre- and post-, consistent monitoring, as knowledge of bitumen effects on the environment is limited and therefore less capable of being mitigated (CTV News, 2014). See video for more details:

Public Participation Line 9B

Most importantly, public participation now only includes people “directly effected”. (David Suzuki Foundation 2012; Gage 2012; Forest Ethics, 2013) As a result, compared to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project (11,111 public participants), Enbridge line 9B only had 172 participants (Forest Ethics, 2013). This legislation has meant the loss of democracy in Canadian EIA. This is most important because participant input as to what is important in EIA has formerly always been taken into consideration. Keep in mind that what constitutes an impact or effect is frequently defined by social value. This diminution of public participation also defeats the purpose of important cornerstones in the development of EIA in Canada, like the signing of the Rio Declaration in 1992, the UN global environmental assessment agreement (UNEP, 1992). The effects of the CEAA 2012 have had repercussions that need to be noticed and hopefully acted upon very soon.


Canadian Environmental Law Association. (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.cela.ca/blog/2013-08-13/ontario’s-greenhouse-gas-reduction-program-–-carbon-tax.

CBC News. (2014). Enbridge Line 9 pipeline reversal approved by energy board. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/enbridge-line-9-pipeline-reversal-approved-by-energy-board-1.2562169

CTV News. (2014). Leonardo DiCaprio visits Alberta oilsands to research documentary. Retrieved from://www.ctvnews.ca/entertainment/leonardo-dicaprio-visits-alberta-oilsands-to-research-documentary-1.1971656.

David Suzuki Foundation. (2012). Bill C-38: What you need to know. Retrieved from: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/publications/downloads/2012/C-38%20factsheet.pdf

Energy Policy Institute of Canada. (2012). A Canadian Energy Strategy Framework: A guide to building Canada’s future as a global energy leader. Retrieved from: http://www.canadasenergy.ca/canadian-energy-strategy/

Environment Canada. (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.ec.gc.ca/ges-ghg/donnees-data/index.cfm?do=province&lang=En&year=2012.

ForestEthics Advocacy. (2013). Who writes the rules? A Report on Oil Industry Influence, Government Laws, and the corrosion of Public Process.

Gage, A. (2012). Who is silenced under Canada’s new environmental assessment law? West Coast Environmental Law. Retrieved from: wcel.org/resources/environmental-law-alert/who-silenced-under-canada’s-new-environmental-assessment-act

Green World Rising. (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.greenworldrising.org/#!ep2-carbon/clzn

Line 9: It’s coming for you. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_z0sc-rSB1s

National Energy Board. (2013). Hearing Order OH-002-2013. https://docs.neb-one.gc.ca/lleng/llisapi.dll/fetch 2000/90464/90552/92263/790736/890819/918701/918444/A3%2D1_%2D_Hearing_Order_OH%2D002%2D2013_%2D_A3F4W7.pdf?


Natural Resources Canada. (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/oil-sands/water-management/5865.

Oil Sands Information Portal, (2014). Retrieved from: http://osip.alberta.ca/library/Dataset/Details/443.

Opposing Enbridge’s Line 9. (2014). Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfHl-N1qxY8.

Stewart, K. (2014). Approval of Enbridge Line 9 good for oil companies, not communities: Greenpeace. Toronto. Retrieved from:http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/Global/canada/pr/2014/03/NEBLine9Ruling.pdf

UNEP. (1992). Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Retrieved From: https://www.unep.com/