How participation influences Environmental Assessment decisions: Mackenzie Valley, Canada

  • Author / Creator
    Wang, Yichuan
  • In many countries, Environmental Assessment (EA) is an important tool for aiding in decision-making about resource development projects, which includes approval or rejection and imposing mitigation Measures. Whether the public can participate in EA and influence decision-making through participation are two important problems because such projects often bring negative environmental or socio-cultural impacts. Theoretically, participation without influence indicates lack of power in the decision process. Participation of Indigenous Peoples and knowledges in EA and whether that participation can influence decision-making are matters of particular focus and concern. This holds in Canada, as evidenced through recent changes to federal EA through Bill C-69. Previous qualitative research has highlighted some key barriers and challenges to participation and the limited ways in which Indigenous Peoples and knowledge systems are reflected in decision-making outcomes. This dissertation focuses on participation and influence of Indigenous and other groups in the EA process in the Mackenzie Valley, Northwest Territories, a co-management process set up to give Indigenous Peoples more say in resource management decision-making than previously.

    This study has two objectives. Objective 1 is to identify and quantify indicators of participation and EA decisions in the Mackenzie Valley EA process. Objective 2 is to quantitatively evaluate how participation by various groups influences the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board’s decisions on all 39 projects that completed EA between 1998 and 2019.

    The Reports of Environmental Assessment (REA) from the Review Board public registry were studied for the 39 projects. Indicators of participation and decisions were developed and detailed coding rules were created to guide the conversion of the content of REAs into quantitative indicators related to participation and EA decisions. Types of participation were identified for specific participants, which were organized into participant groups. Review Board decisions about the project were identified: there will likely be Significant Adverse Impacts (SAI) or Significant Public Concern (SPC), mitigation Measures, and Suggestions. Coding by content analysis was conducted on the 39 Reports to derive the quantitative data, on which descriptive and econometric analyses were conducted.

    A key EA decision is the Review Board’s decision as to whether there will likely be SAI/SPC from the project. The Review Board makes these decisions on specific “issues” within a project (e.g. water, caribou, jobs), and for each project. I gleaned 419 issue observations from the 39 projects. I coded the Review Board’s SAI/SPC decision as a dependent variable and constructed explanatory variables measuring participation opposing and participation supporting projects. To assess influence of participation, I estimate a Linear Probability Model of the SAI/SPC decision on participation by groups, with fixed effects and clustering by project.

    The summary statistics show that Indigenous Peoples without settled land claims lead in participation opposing a project while Proponents lead in participation supporting a project. The regression results show wide differences in the degree of influence on the Review Board’s decisions when different participants raise SAI, SPC, and concerns (Oppose). The largest influence of these Oppose influences is by the Review Board’s entities, followed by the Government, and Indigenous Peoples with settled land claims. All of these influences are statistically significant. In terms of magnitude, Indigenous Peoples without settled land claims have similar Oppose influence as Indigenous Peoples without settled land claims, although their Oppose influence is not statistically significant. Also not statistically significant is the Oppose influence by environmentally-oriented groups.

    The significance of the coefficient on Unsettled land claimants Oppose is likely sensitive to model specification. Significance aside, in terms of magnitude, there is higher influence by Review Board entities and Government, than by Indigenous Peoples, when they raise SAI, SPC, and concerns. The results also show that when certain groups participate in support of a project, they influence the decision-making at statistically significant levels. However, this study focuses on the ability of groups to influence decision-making when they raise SAI, SPC, and concerns, because the Review Board’s decision is to determine SAI/SPC.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2020
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
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