Agricultural Pesticides Impact on Children

Five Year Review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act

Defining "Healthy Society"
Dan Parrott's Speaking Notes
February 29, 2022 Sheraton Cavalier Session
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan


This presentation will focus on what role I think the Act plays in society, what I think is missing in some of the language in the Act, and why.

CEAA's Objectives: Healthy Environment and Healthy Economy

Section 4(b) encourages responsible authorities to take actions that promote sustainable development and thereby achieve or maintain a healthy environment and a healthy economy.

Healthy Economy, Yes...

The Act defines "environment" as the components of the Earth, and includes (a) land, water and air, including all layers of the atmosphere, (b) all organic and inorganic matter and living organisms, and (c) the interacting natural systems that include components referred to in paragraphs (a) and (b);

While the word "healthy" is not defined, one can make a logical guess based on the definition of sustainable development, that it means able to support life now and in the future.

... But Healthy Economy?

The Act does not define the term "economy", and without a definition it is difficult to know what a "healthy economy" would look like.

I looked for some clues in your discussion guide. It suggested that a healthy economy would involve "...the creation of job opportunities in an economically depressed area." It also suggested that a healthy economy means keeping the private sector competitive in the global market.

I have to wonder, "Is that all the Environment Department has to guide it? How is it going to look ahead with 'simplicity', 'quality' and 'integrity' when one of the Act's major objects has so little definition?"

Furthermore, my experience with the Joint Federal Provincial Panel on Uranium Mine Developments in Northern Saskatchewan suggests that this question of definition is one of major importance, and the question boils down to: A healthy economy but for Whom?

The Joint Panel Review of Uranium Mine Developments in Northern Saskatchewan

The Joint Panel had a mandate to look at both the history of uranium mining and the socio-economic issues in northern Saskatchewan.

The Panel was immediately confronted with the fact that most northern aboriginal people lived under third world conditions, and that they had lived this way for many centuries.

Relatively recent studies gave stark examples of this poverty. In the early 1970s the Department of Northern Services (DNS) acknowledged that northern aboriginal people were poor - in fact "Northern Saskatchewan was very much like a third world country..." (emphasis added)

A 1969 task force reported that three of the major causes of health problems in the North were substandard housing, deficient diet, and lack of proper sewer and water facilities. 1968 infant mortality rates in northern Saskatchewan were 60.2 per 1000, as opposed to 25.8 in the south. Illness struck the more vulnerable, i.e. the young, with 50% of hospitalizations being people under 15 years of age.

The DNS also acknowledged that poverty affected education, with the average educational level at that time being grade 5.

And lastly, the DNS acknowledged that poverty breeds social pathologies such as alcoholism, child abuse, petty crime and other forms of social breakdown.

At the time the causes of this poverty were more or less ignored. The Provincial government and mining company's would do little more than speculate as to what caused these third world conditions. A DNS study concluded that poverty was aboriginal peoples' fault. After being "...forced to share their land..." with whites, aboriginal peoples' drop into destitution was the result of.... .being faced with a strange language and an even stranger culture...." And of course, "They did not possess the skills or the education of whites". This left native peoples on the outside of development, forcing them onto welfare.

Irrespective of the causes, government and the mining industry were quite certain they had a way of lifting these people out of poverty. They promised to break what they called the "cycle of dependency". "But alternatives to hand-outs would have to be found.. .the pride would somehow have to be restored."

This goal was to be reached by implementing a comprehensive array of training programs, backed up by education. Furthermore, the DNS was poised on the verge of a major construction program - "houses, sewer and water systems, roads, airstrips, public buildings - and a tremendous work force would be needed." DNS officials intended that aboriginal peoples participate in this program as wage workers. This would get aboriginal people off of welfare, and into the labour force.

The mining companies would also provide jobs to these newly trained people.

The problem is that none of this worked. 20 years later the Saskatchewan Commission on Directions in Health Care observed: "...the health problems of northern residents are in many ways not unlike those found in third world countries..." (emphasis added) Their 1990 Report listed some of these: "the high incidence of infectious diseases, including respiratory infections, tuberculosis, middle ear disease, sexually transmitted diseases, high incidences of alcohol and drug abuse, lack of proper nutrition, lack of hygienic sewer and water conditions..." and, on and on.

It was about this time that a whole new series of mines were being proposed - and suddenly history began repeating itself. The mining industry was going to save the North. In fact, the poverty of Northern aboriginal people became the reason for mining uranium. Jobs, any kind of job in such an economically depressed region had to be a good thing. So the mining companies took full advantage of this horrible state of affairs. For instance: Mid West Project's EIS concluded that "...this project will produce major employment and economic benefits to the residents of Athabasca communities...." The Cluff Lake Project's EIS concluded that the mines would provide major economic benefits to residents of the Athabasca region.

The public however, began asking: "Wait a minute - you guys tried this same approach 20 years ago and it didn't work - what makes you think it will work now?"

Some people began looking into the nature of Northern poverty and what caused it. A careful review provided a very startling answer: Government policies caused it. And it wasn't just some unfortunate happenstance or misfortune either. The policies were deliberate and consistent and designed to benefit the private sector.

These conclusions were presented to the Joint Panel. It made them very uncomfortable. Even if they chose not to accept these conclusions, it was impossible to ignore that uranium mining companies were extracting resources worth billions of dollars from the North, and they were doing this is the midst of horrible poverty. It was difficult holding meetings in these northern communities under these circumstances. If anything it was at least downright embarrassing.

So the Panel chose a middle road. They ignored the causes. Instead, in report after report they recommended that mining companies be forced into revenue sharing programs with northern communities. Each time the provincial government rejected these recommendations. What was even eerier was the rationale used to rebuff the Panel. The province offered the same type of job training and education programs it offered 20 years ago and that had made so little difference then, and were likely just as useless now.

It got so bad and so blatant that the aboriginal member of the Panel resigned in protest, and was soon in the media threatening to blockade roads if resource revenue sharing was not seriously considered.

Meanwhile, the third world conditions in our North remain relatively unchanged.


If the Act is going to fulfill on its public interest and remedial nature, I believe it must contain some language concerning the phrase "healthy economy".

To start it could be modest, and simply state that depressed regions like third worlds regions that exist in this country are not examples of a healthy economy.

Bolder language could suggest that private sector hyper-exploitation of depressed regions is not in the interest of that region specifically, or of Canada generally.

Bolder still, language could direct federal authorities to critically examines the sources of poverty in depressed regions.

Lastly, the Act could suggest that the private sector has a responsibility of ensuring the development of a "healthy economy". If major industries enter a depressed region promising to improve living standards, they should be held to these promises. Future licensing approvals would depend on how well employment rates, infant mortality rates, disease and suicide rates improve. No improvement would mean canceled licenses or no license renewals.

I would like to close with a prophetic observation by the Joint Panel: "Because the economic and social problems faced by the people of northern Saskatchewan are so severe and encompassing, there is little doubt that, if allowed to remain unresolved, they will eventually have a highly adverse effect on the entire provincial economy."

In other words, we are all in the same boat. If what happens in these depressed regions is not energetically addressed and confronted, then we our simply getting a preview of our own futures.

Thank you.



* (1)Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (Ottawa: Minister of the Environment, 1999) at 35.
* (2)Ibid. at 17.
* (3)Elaine Cotterill and Timothy Myers, Northern Saskatchewan ( LaRonge: Department of Northern Saskatchewan, 1976) at 14.
* (4) Timothy Myers, Five Years After: A Review of the Department of Northern Saskatchewan's First Five Years (LaRonge: Department of Northern Saskatchewan, 1979) at 9.
* (5) Ibid. at 9.
* (6)Ibid. at 3.
* (7)Ibid.
* (8) Ibid.
* (9)Future Directions in Health Care in Saskatchewan (Government of Saskatchewan, 1990) at 167-169.
* (10) MidWest Project Environmental Impact Statement, Executive Summary, August 1995 at 17.
* (11) Cluff Lake Project Environmental Impact Statement, Executive Summary, July 1995 at 24.
* (12) Dominique-Janine Extension, McClean Lake Project, and MidWest Joint Venture, Report of the Joint Federal Provincial Panel on Uranium Mining Developments in Northern Saskatchewan, October 1993, at 8.