Centring Community: New Pathways in Resource Extraction Policy Processes
The community dimension of resource extraction is a historically understudied area of inquiry in Canadian political science. While bringing prosperity and benefits for more privileged members of communities, resource extraction projects also bring substantial negative socio-economic impacts, which are disproportionately borne by historically marginalized members of communities (including women and girls, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, and people living on low incomes). I take impact assessments (IAs) – the primary regulatory and institutional mechanism to ensure that proposed resource extraction projects will not cause undue harm to communities and the environment – as my central site of inquiry. I explore three research questions: (1) Why do current resource extraction impact assessment processes fail to prevent the increased marginalization and unequal distribution of costs and benefits among members of Northern communities? (2) What are, and what should be, the responsibilities of the state and resource corporations in identifying and responding to the social impacts of resource extraction during IA processes? (3) What changes are needed to create a more equitable and inclusive IA process that centres communities and their concerns? The conceptual framework weaves together five inter-related literatures (settler colonialism in Northern Canada, the resource curse, multilevel politics, intersectionality, and environmental justice) to explain different aspects of Northern communities’ experiences of resource extraction and the IA process. I take a comparative, feminist critical policy studies methodological approach, completing a comparative scan of IA policy frameworks, interviews, and case studies of four resource extraction projects, in order to analyze the inclusion and exclusion of women and girls, Indigenous people, people with disabilities and people living on low incomes in resource decision-making. I argue that structural and systemic inequities exist within IA processes and policy frameworks that often prevent both the participation of marginalized members of Northern communities and the recognition of their concerns within the IA process. These inequities emerge from unequal relationships of power between communities and the state, communities and the proponent, and within communities themselves, which shape community impacts from resource projects but are also are reproduced in the IA process.