Environment or the Economy?: Has Canada Fallen Victim to the Staples Trap?

by gidget on October 6, 2017 - 8:57am

In recent news, Canada’s energy stores have been up for debate with the announced proposal of a new pipeline project that would link the East coastline to the prairies of Canada. In late September 2017, the National Observer reported that Environment and Climate Change Canada has offered to pay for the environmental assessment of the upstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of this pipeline. National Energy Board (NEB) is enforcing new environmental assessment policies ensuring that all new energy development proposals include an analysis of both up-stream and down-stream GHG emissions as well as the environmental impacts that production and operation processes will have. This article highlights the environmental management process in Canada with the purpose of discussing the various actors that are involved in the resource decision-making process.

TransCanada, a Canadian oil company, has announced a 30-day deferral on the Energy East pipeline proposal after the NEB upped its environmental assessment standards. The nature of this pipeline has raised some environmental concerns among provincial governments such as New Brunswick’s, environmental non-governmental agencies (ENGO’s) and the citizens of Canada. In strong opposition of the Energy East pipeline is Environmental Defence, a non-governmental organization centered around environmental protection. Although a project of this magnitude means major environmental impacts, the Environmental Defence feels the real problem with the Energy East pipeline is the Federal governments involvement in the review process. This article highlights Canada’s reliance on natural resources although Prime Minister Trudeau feels this project will focus on environmental protection as well as grow Canada’s economy.

The article brings up many resource management questions such as who should be involved in recourse management decisions? Who benefits from the development of this pipeline? Has the Federal governments done its duty to consult Canada’s Indigenous people? My initial reaction to this article was that it highlights the complicated relationship between resource management and the state. The article presents the East Energy pipeline proposal in such a way that reflects Canada’s dependence on the oil industry.

Canada underwent a fundamental shift in discourse whereby the Harper government exercised discursive power to make it so the environment symbolized resources and growth rather than being an ecosystem separate from humans (Peyton & Franks, 2015). Canada was then viewed as an “energy super-power” (Peyton & Franks 2015, p. 453) possessing an abundance of ecological affluence with a heavy reliance on natural resources (Mitchell, 2015). With the new Canadian discourse in mind and the articles emphasis on the management approaches to oil, the question for me then became, has Canada fallen subject to the staples trap? Staples trap theory can be described as an economy that relies on resource extraction for economic growth (Mitchell, 2015). It is thought that Canada’s economy may have developed an irreversible dependency on the extraction of stock resources such as oil (Mitchell, 2015). For example, in 2013, $128 billion dollars of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) came from the oil and gas industry (Mitchell, 2015). In saying this, has Canada’s dependence on oil created a scenario in which the country is controlled by its stock resource?

This pipeline is a state issues that must be assessed in a manner that includes various discourses such as traditional indigenous knowledge. Will the development of this project instill further dependency on natural resource extraction? Is this pipeline only further leading Canada into a staples trap? These are questions that the article failed to touch on in its analysis of Canada’s resource management. There are multiple benefits and repercussions to this pipeline so the question then becomes, to what extent is Canada willing to overlooked environmental uncertainty to develop its economy?



Goujard, C. (2017, Sep. 29). Environmental Canada Offers to Cover Costs of Pipeline’s climate change research. Retrieved from https://www.nationalobserver.com/2017/09/29/news/environment-canada-offers-cover-costs-pipelines-climate-change-research

Mitchell, B. (2015) Resource and Environmental Management in Canada, Fifth Edition. Don Mills: Oxford University Press.

Peyton, J., Franks, A. (2015).  The Nature of Things? Canada’s Conservative Government and the Design of the New Environmental Subject. Antipode (28) 2. Retrieved from  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/store/10.1111/anti.12179/asset/anti12179.pdf;jsessionid            =682DAD9C952B18C4EE59804D32BAF1DC.f02t03?v=1&t=j8f4m98z&s=91bc8028ee113   088f6759876f0c1ad18b19fb2f3