February 23, 2016
The Globe and Mail
444 Front St. W.
Jeffery Simpson's column today ("Development is stuck at a yellow light") is grounded in some fundamental misconceptions about the nature of the environmental, social and political conflicts around major natural resource infrastructure and development projects and the structure of the approval processes which they face.
All of the projects mentioned in Mr. Simpson's column (the Kinder-Morgan and Energy East pipelines and the Deep Geological Repository for nuclear wastes) carry with them significant risks of locking in specific economic and technological pathways that will define significant portions of the Canadian economy over the very long term. It is entirely appropriate, in this context, that there be calls for meaningful and substantive public reviews of their immediate and long-term environmental, economic and social implications before they are approved.
The existing approvals processes for these projects have been "streamlined" by successive governments to a point where they have been stripped of their ability to produce decisions that are seen as credible and legitimate by major societal constituencies. In some cases, like the Northern Gateway pipeline, the streamlining, via the Harper government's Bill-38, has exacerbated the conflicts rather than contributed to their resolution.
What is required are processes that provide opportunities to ask fundamental questions about the purpose of projects and their long-term environmental, economic and social implications; provide for meaningful examination of the evidence presented by proponents, including opportunities to challenge key assumptions; and decision-making bodies that are not, like the current iteration of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, cheerleaders for the industries they are supposed to be regulating.
Mark S. Winfield, Ph.D.