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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Policy and decision-making in the North : the case of Lancaster Sound Davidson, Margaret Anne


This thesis examines federal government decision-making in the North using the decision process regarding a proposal by Norlands Petroleum Ltd. to drill an exploratory well in Lancaster Sound as a case study. Lancaster Sound is the eastern "throat" of the Northwest Passage, and an area of great potential resource-use conflict. The Sound can be likened to an oasis in the Arctic "desert" because of the variety and abundance of wildlife it supports. The traditional way of life of Inuit people in the region is tied to these wildlife resources. However, in recent years promising geologic structures which may contain recoverable oil have been identified under the Sound. Accordingly, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND) issued an Approval-in-Principle for an exploratory drilling proposal by Norlands Petroleum Ltd. in 1974. Norlands' proposal is one of several projects comprising the new and potentially hazardous programme to drill for oil and gas offshore in the Canadian Arctic. As well, arctic mines are being developed and there are plans to use the Sound year-round for shipping minerals and petroleum. Because of the complex issues involved, federal government decisions for Lancaster Sound affect a wide range of interests. The overall purpose of this study is to analyze the government's policy responses to these issues and to examine the decision process it has employed over a ten year span. Specific objectives include: 1) to provide the historical background and policy environment as a context for the Lancaster Sound decision process; 2) to provide a detailed chronology of events and decisions from project inception through submission to, and evaluation by the federal Environmental Assessment and Review Process (EARP); 3) to analyze this decision process and suggest improvements. To achieve these objectives, I first derived a framework of criteria for an "optimal" decision process based on common-sense and democratic principles through review of relevant literature. Literature on decision theory was also reviewed in developing my analytic framework. Information for a historical perspective on the policy environment for northern development was provided through the literature as well. Specific information on the case study was obtained through background documents, personal interviews and correspondence with government and industry representatives, and results of a questionnaire to intervenors involved in the EARP associated with the drilling proposal. My analysis of federal government decision making in this case reveals a wholly reactive, incremental approach to northern planning and failure to coordinate and integrate policies related to northern development, energy, environmental protection and social concerns. The following summarizes my findings: 1) Conflicts between policies were not addressed. Rapid industrial expansion seemed to be the underlying policy for early decisions. As public awareness grew, the government was forced to simply react to other pressures, so that Norlands was alternately encouraged and frustrated in their endeavors. - In the early 1970's, DIAND, as the regulatory agency, interacted almost exclusively with oil companies. Other legitimate interests were excluded or lacked the necessary information and resources to become involved. 2) Because of this narrow approach and the absence of any coordinating policy or planning framework, alternatives reflecting a range of values and preferences were not considered. 3) The decision process did not provide a constructive role for other government agencies. 4) The EARP review provided a loosely-structured, open, interactive forum for an exchange of views on the future of the area. Despite major structural and procedural weaknesses, this review was a catalyst that may change the whole course of events for Lancaster Sound. 5) The ethical question of whether southern Canadians have the right to impose their wishes on the Inuit in the absence of any treaty signed by these people was not a factor in the decision process. Recommendations for improving decision processes for northern development include: 1) Formulate clear and coordinated policies so that the public is provided with a rationale or context within which to consider specific development decisions. 2) Institute an organisational structure and planning process that assures full participation of the groups affected by decisions regarding an area in determining: a) what are the information needs and what studies should be undertaken; b) what alternative plans should be formulated and considered. 3) To implement the foregoing, provide resources to those affected interests who would otherwise have great difficulty overcoming the transaction costs of organising to express their views. This will assure that plans are conceptualized and evaluated that take into account their values and perceptions. 4) Establish decision rules that will govern the relationship between the Canadian people as a whole and the Inuit in deciding the course of action to be pursued in a specific area.

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