Dan Parrott's Speaking Notes
February 29, 2022 Sheraton Cavalier Session
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.
Healthy Environment and Healthy Economy
4(b) encourages responsible authorities to take actions that promote
sustainable development and thereby achieve or maintain a healthy
environment and a healthy economy.
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);
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?
does not define the term "economy", and without a definition
it is difficult to know what a "healthy economy" would look
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
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?"
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?
Panel Review of Uranium Mine Developments in Northern Saskatchewan
Panel had a mandate to look at both the history of uranium mining
and the socio-economic issues in northern Saskatchewan.
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.
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.
also acknowledged that poverty affected education, with the average
educational level at that time being grade 5.
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
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."
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.
companies would also provide jobs to these newly trained people.
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.
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?"
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.
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.
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
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
could suggest that private sector hyper-exploitation of depressed
regions is not in the interest of that region specifically, or of
language could direct federal authorities to critically examines the
sources of poverty in depressed regions.
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.
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."
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.
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.
* (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.