A picture of openness

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Are there ways to build public confidence that natural resource development aligns with the broader interest? A national report on this theme is of special interest to candidates for public office. 

It can take the heightened atmosphere of a nearing election date to focus interest on the most pressing issues of the moment. That is definitely the case in British Columbia, which has a provincial election approaching in May and is also facing a large range of natural resource opportunities that bring challenges as well as opportunities. However, there is abundant proof that resource concerns are not of isolated to only one of Canada's regions.

A national workshop on public confidence held in the summer of 2016 (and attended by our executive director Stewart Muir) broke down the confidence problem into four areas that are outlined below. For those putting their names on a ballot, these findings can prove their worth during the process of asking citizens for their support.

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Key opportunities and innovations:

Four opportunities related to resource literacy emerged from the workshop. All would benefit from national co-ordination on data, sharing of resources, best practices, and lessons learned. However, there will need to be strong regional and local strategies to ensure that local community concerns and interests are addressed.

  1. Tailor messaging and engagement to audience: Resource literacy initiatives should be designed for specific audiences, with simple messages that convey a human story. These messages should connect resources back to people’s lives and values, with a priority to help local communities and local leaders to understand and discuss resource issues. Different engagement and communication approaches and tools should be tested with different audiences.

  2. Improve data: Develop a source of high quality, timely, and independent energy and mining data that balances economic, environmental and social indicators. This data would form the basis of inclusive, balanced, accessible and engaging messages that build authenticity and legitimacy. Where possible, harmonizing local, provincial and national data sets will be very important in developing a common language that supports resource literacy nationally.

  3. Better information on regulatory processes: Develop and popularize simplified explanations of regulatory processes. Improved understanding of these processes will enable more informed participation in community discussions and consultations, and will support confidence in Canada’s regulatory systems.

  4. Support multi-stakeholder resource literacy initiatives: Support and leverage the energy and mining literacy work already underway across the country. Organizations that work across stakeholder groups, use an interdisciplinary approach, and tailor messaging/engagement tools may be particularly valuable partners. Multi-stakeholder resource literacy initiatives can be an enabler of consensus building, creative solutions and innovations. 

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Key opportunities and innovations:

Five main opportunities to support public confidence were identified in the discussions on Health, Safety and Environment at the workshop.
  1. Invest in government science and regulatory capacity: Public science and a strong regulator help ensure that resource project reviews are based on unbiased evidence. Governments should invest in science that supports regulatory decision-making and improves environmental performance. Regulators should have the resources to conduct thorough project reviews and promote, investigate and enforce compliance.

  2. Enhancing public engagement and participation in project reviews: Improve transparency of regulatory decision-making by informing the public of the reasoning and justifications behind decisions. Also, provide more opportunities for the public to participate in the project review process, especially Indigenous people.

  3. Strategic environmental assessment and land use planning: Policy and strategic decisions are currently made on a project-by-project basis. Strategic environment assessment and land use planning are opportunities to take a more fulsome approach to planning that provides insight into the cumulative environmental and health effects of resource development. This would better inform decision-making on individual projects.

  4. Government collaboration: Improve interdepartmental and inter-jurisdictional co-ordination of project reviews with respect to public consultation.

  5. Address legacy issues: Investments could be made to address legacy issues such as abandoned oil wells. The National Orphaned and Abandoned Mines Initiative is an example of progress in the mining sector on these issues. 

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Key Opportunities and Innovations:

Community engagement is about building a relationship with communities. It moves beyond the traditional conception of participation and moves towards an on-going relationship for the purpose of developing a common interests and a common vision for the benefit of the community. Engagement moves beyond short-term and episodic contact to sustained, meaningful relationships. Key learnings:
  1. Establish national principles for engagement for resource development: This could include a policy and procedures for community engagement. Possible models/processes to study: Norway’s National Energy Strategy and the Whitehorse Mining Initiative.
  2. Foster community capacity: Facilitate community learning opportunities (ex: community based mapping) before consultation and invest in community capacity building. Investments in community capacity building could include providing independent federal funding to build necessary community capacity, including early engagement, and engagement post-approval. Consider community engagement expenditures as an eligible expense for favourable taxation treatment.

  3. Government co-ordination: Co-ordinate government participation and interests horizontally, before engaging the community. Provide timely access to policy makers and others if it is demanded.

  4. Enforce and support community engagement: Government can enforce the requirements for community engagement though legislative requirements but should keep out of any direct involvement of project specific consultations. There should be a clear line between a company goals and government. However, communities may still look to government to help interpret and evaluate company information.

  5. Project review processes: The government should consider releasing a preliminary or initial evaluation as part of a public hearing. This could help provide the public with a greater understanding of the project and review process.

  6. Create partnerships: Government and project proponents could establish opportunities for communities and municipalities to participate in economic opportunities (revenue/ownership) and to take on monitoring and stewardship. Government and proponents may also consider fostering community/independent advisory boards.

  7. Find common interests: Project proponents should look for opportunities to align community vision with opportunities from development.

  8. When embarking on a community engagement process, consider the following:

    • Develop a common understanding of the purpose of engagement. Ensure there are clear expectations – including well defined roles.
    • Design of the engagement process: It is important to ensure there are accessible formats and multiple approaches to expand engagement opportunities.
    • Promote informed engagement: Reduce jargon while also supporting communities to understand and evaluate all aspects of a project. Consider independent experts as part of the process to help advise the public
    • Do your homework: It is important to recognize community visions/protocols - every community has different needs.
    • Transparency is important. The public needs to know that they were heard, and also that what was heard from them influenced project design. Report back quickly on what was heard during engagement process and when decisions are made.
    • Early, meaningful and often engagement: start engaging early in the process and stay engaged even after permits and licenses are issued and after construction starts to follow through on outcomes. 

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Key Opportunities and Innovations:

Several novel approaches to ensure Indigenous communities can maximize their participation in resource development utilize culturally respectful education initiatives, marketing potential opportunities and ensure government funding is focused toward increasing capacity and engagement. Current successful approaches to increase Indigenous engagement were provided by representatives.

  1. Invest in education and capacity development: Support educational opportunities for Indigenous communities to build a basic understanding of resource development, such as the regulatory process (including the Environment Act), mining 101, oil and gas 101. Collaborate with Indigenous participation on training initiatives for Environmental Assessment 101, transparency on the clean-up of legacy sites (mines, wells). Provide hands- on experience in business analysis, in project scoping and co-management. 
  2. Improve consultation and accommodation. Jurisdictions could develop a standard and meaningful policy clearly leading from consultation to engagement. Set out principles of consultation/engagement policies at the start, and encourage involvement of Indigenous communities and companies throughout the entire life cycle.

    Successful engagement examples developed by proponents and industry organizations include TSM (Towards Sustainable Mining), preferential hiring for Indigenous communities in Request for Proposal (RFP) process and the development of agreements (Socio-economic; Impact and Benefit etc.). Using social media to provide project developmental stage and hiring to Indigenous people living both within and outside communities.

    Support a greater participation of Indigenous communities in regulatory review process and environmental assessments.

  3. Co-ordinate government collaboration: Reduce project by project consultation inefficiencies through collaboration with other departments and jurisdictions. Co-ordinate collaboration better internally, with Indigenous communities and between federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions to accelerate the progression from consultation and accommodation to integration and reconciliation.

  4. Create forums for respectful, meaningful discussion, accommodation:
    Establishing tables with four levels of governments (Federal; Municipal; Provincial; Indigenous) could be beneficial to work through broad issues such as historical grievances and the resolution of land claims

  5. Take time to build relationships: Listen to communities and provide real investments. Consider creating more forums for community dialogue and listen in those situations where communities say “no”, while taking time to celebrate mutual successes. Endorse strategies that facilitate a better understanding of what it takes to develop respect and inclusion without a requirement to change the Indigenous holistic worldview.

  6. Build on traditional knowledge: Prioritize programs such as TEK/IQ (Traditional Ecological Knowledge/Inuit Qaujimanituqangit) collection, mentor Indigenous guardians.

  7. Identify community and vendor capacity information: Expand the Skills, Inventory and Vendor database (currently in Saskatchewan) to identify community and vendor capacity information and be used as a hiring/procurement tool for Indigenous involvement in energy and mining resources.

  8. Promote best practices: Develop guides and best practices and facilitate information sharing of best practices through industry associations. 

Read the complete findings here:

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