Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources

Motion to Authorize Committee to Study the Cumulative Impacts of Resource Extraction and Development--Debate Continued

December 3, 2020


Honourable senators, I rise today in support of Senator McCallum’s Motion No. 17, calling on the Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources to study the cumulative impacts of resource extraction and development, and their effects on environmental, economic and social considerations.

Thank you, Senator McCallum, for this proactive opportunity for the Senate to confront the systemic racism, sexism, ablism, economic marginalization and other inequalities that too often prevent all those concerned with resource extraction and development from being heard in this or the other place.

Particularly as Canada responds to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry and the COVID-19 pandemic, the proposed study provides a vital opportunity to ensure that economic recovery efforts remain grounded in human rights and environmental imperatives that accord with Canada’s commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the development of an action plan to remedy the many issues outlined with respect to missing, murdered, disappeared, homeless and imprisoned Indigenous women and girls.

This study would encourage comprehensive consideration of the implications of resource extraction and development, in particular for those most marginalized and where these activities overlap with and intensify systemic inequality.

Every day of this pandemic has been a stark reminder of the inexorable links between environmental, economic health and social well-being, emphasized by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. If economies are to function, let alone thrive, we need to ensure that people, communities and environments are healthy and safe.

As we work together to weather COVID-19, we must not lose sight of the challenge that lies beyond it; that is the need to arrest and, wherever possible, to remedy the harms of climate change and environmental degradation. Ensuring that law and policy properly account for the effects of resource extraction and development are an inevitable part of this challenge.

Sustainable Development Goal 10 is Reduced Inequalities. Senator McCallum discussed the high rates of health issues such as rare cancers among Indigenous peoples in communities near oil sands, uranium mines and pulp mills. Senator Galvez brought the issue of environmental racism to our attention by highlighting the economic policies that depend on locating hazardous and toxic industries in the backyards of racialized and poor communities.

Environmental degradation associated with resource extraction has interfered with access to Indigenous communities; threatened sacred sites; disrupted traditional activities such as hunting, fishing and foraging; and endangered wildlife and plant diversity as well as water and food quality, all of which undermine the health and well-being of individuals and communities.

Poor and racialized communities have been disproportionately affected by Canada’s failure to manage carbon and other emissions associated with extractive industries. Those most economically marginalized are also most disadvantaged by higher food costs and increased food insecurity, not to mention the fewest viable means to prepare for, protect themselves from and safely leave areas experiencing catastrophic weather events associated with climate change, from floods to wildfires to tornadoes.

Dr. Pamela Palmater has further underscored that, in too many Indigenous communities:

Genocide and ecocide go hand in hand. Extraction and development destroys the lands and waters on which we depend . . . and is a direct contributor to the violence and genocide committed against Indigenous women and girls.

Sustainable Development Goal 5 is Gender Equality. As Senators McCallum and Galvez and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls have reminded us, resource extraction work is associated with higher rates of violence against women, most notably Indigenous women. Human trafficking and sexual exploitation have all too frequently been linked to resource extraction camps.

In addition, women living in remote regions face economic barriers to leaving abusive partners if they rely on their partners’ incomes or have no safe place to go.

High-paying resource extraction and development jobs are still overwhelmingly held by men, exacerbating sex-based inequality in communities whose economies are built on these industries and where other available jobs are often poorly paid service industry positions.

The 2004 Pictou Statement from grassroots and national women’s groups highlighted the link between women’s equality and income equality by calling for a national guaranteed livable income as a means of ensuring security and autonomy for all women.

The Pictou Statement also emphasizes the potential of guaranteed liveable incomes to enable communities to resist and develop alternatives to economies that ignore the well-being of people and the planet and deny the value of women’s work.

Sustainable Development Goal 1 calls for an end to poverty, and Sustainable Development Goal 8 calls for decent work and economic growth.

Honourable senators, in studying the effects of resource extraction and development, measures like a guaranteed livable income have the potential to offer alternatives to an otherwise stark trade-off between livelihoods of community members and human environmental rights. Communities often opt to live with the risks associated with resource extraction and development because advocating protections or opposing the expansion of industry is seen as imperiling jobs or even entire local economies.

A guaranteed livable income could create space to develop not only more sustainable but also more equal and just economies, where communities are empowered to make long-term decisions about what will best serve the future well-being of all community members.

In the context of transitions away from fossil fuel industries, while a guaranteed income likely could not match the wages earned through resource extraction and development jobs, it could ensure individuals have a safety net in case of loss of jobs or other financial setbacks, and could provide a stable source of income for those wanting to retrain or seek new opportunities.

Sustainable Development Goal 14 relates to life below water, and Sustainable Development Goal 15 relates to life on land.

Indigenous communities have disproportionately borne the negative consequences of resource extraction and development. At the same time, Indigenous peoples have too often been unjustly left to take the lead protecting land and water in ways that benefit all of us.

According to the World Economic Forum, Indigenous peoples represent less than 5% of the world’s population, but they are responsible for protecting 80% of earth’s biodiversity. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, lands managed by Indigenous peoples are characterized by lower levels of deforestation and higher levels of carbon storage.

Recognition of Indigenous law and inherent Indigenous rights, territory and governance could be a vital part of curtailing the negative effects of environmental degradation associated with resource extraction and development.

Sustainable Development Goal 16 calls for peace, justice and strong institutions, including equal access to justice. Canadian legal systems have too often failed to recognize, and much less uphold, rights conferred by Indigenous and international legal orders. Worse still, Indigenous peoples taking measures to assert their rights in order to protect themselves, their families or the environment, including by opposing resource extraction and development on their lands, have been criticized for causing inconveniences and depicted as transgressors of the rule of law, and too often have also been criminalized and even imprisoned, as evidenced by the state responses to the Wet’suwet’en matriarchs in British Columbia, and Mi’kmaq and Innu water protectors in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador.

A growing body of research has demonstrated that environmental degradation from climate change to biodiversity loss to air pollution has put the world at greater risk of the emergence of infectious diseases and global pandemics like COVID-19.

As the economy restarts, Canada has an opportunity to prioritize policies and investments that promote the health and resilience of people, communities and economies alike.

The study proposed by Motion No. 17 provides an urgently needed opportunity to account for the environmental, economic, health and social impacts of resource extraction and development as we move forward in a way that is more fair and just for all, and that insists on rights for and accountability toward future generations.

Honourable senators, let us ensure that we provide a healthier, more equitable and sustainable world as our legacy.

Meegwetch. Thank you.