15 Sustainable Development in the Canadian Polar Region

Nabil Malik, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Canada

The Canadian Arctic and Sub-Arctic region (the Polar region) is facing a new set of challenges related to sustainable development because of natural resource development and rapid population growth. Here, the role of bureaucratic responsiveness in developing and implementing sustainability planning policy which can address these challenges will be explored.

Since 2007, the Canadian government has significantly increased its investment within the Polar region “to ensure that the [Canadian] North achieves its full promise as a vibrant region” (Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, 2011) through the continued development of natural resources that exist within the region. As such, due to the increased development of mines and oil and gas reserves, the Polar region has experienced “considerable international migration of people seeking work in resource extraction and service sectors” (Heleniak & Bogoyavlenskiy, 2013, p. 1). This has caused the population of the Polar region to grow by approximately 13% between 2000 and 2010, which is “at a faster rate than Canada as a whole” (Heleniak & Bogoyavlenskiy, 2013, p. 1). This level of growth is expected to continue in the Polar region, which is presenting a new set of challenges to sustainable development. This has led the federal government to mandate that all municipalities in Canada develop an Integrated Community Sustainability Plans (ICSPs) in order to provide a policy framework that would guide sustainable development.

The Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP), which has been promoted in Canada since 2005, is based on the premise that global sustainability challenges need a response through actions that are “local and shaped by a strong sense of place” (EACCC, 2006, p. 10). An ICSP is defined in the Municipal Funding Agreement as “a long-term plan, developed in consultation with community members that provides direction for the community to realize sustainability objectives including environmental, culture, social and economic objectives” (Planning for Sustainable Canadian Communities Roundtable, 2005, p. 4). The ICSPs are based on a four-pillar model of sustainability— social, cultural, economic, and environmental—and “seek to integrate and to share knowledge and solutions, [so that] communities can better understand their future and work collectively towards achieving their goals” (p. 6). In addition, ICSPs will help municipalities in Canada “to translate knowledge, concerns and hopes into action,” and “enable communities to plan and manage their assets, services and resources in order to achieve identifiable outcomes, deliver services and address their priorities” (p. 9). Throughout the development and implementation process of ICSPs, there is a significant emphasis on engaging and consulting various stakeholders, particularly citizens. As such, the Planning for Sustainable Canadian Communities Roundtable (2005) encourages a collaborative mindset through various participatory techniques. This collaborative and participatory model of developing and implementing ICSPs allows for new forms of participatory planning, which ensures “that the plan is grounded in the pluralistic socio-economic and bio-physical contexts of the community” (Ling, Hanna & Dale, 2009, p. 231).

When there is collaboration and inclusion of citizens and other stakeholders in the decision-making process, it helps promote and instill a sense of shared responsibility and greater public consensus by having all stakeholders participate in the creation of future goals of their community (Bohunovsky, Jager & Omann, 2010). While engaging citizens in the planning process is an important aspect of stakeholder consultation, often public participation initiatives are not well-supported by citizens. This is highlighted by a lack of interest and low turnout (O’Toole et al., 2003; Lowndes, Pratchett and Stoker, 2004; Pilet et al., 2007). However, bureaucrats who are influenced by both the institutional constraints in which they work and their own personal beliefs and actions play an important role in citizen-government interactions. In particular, the manner in which bureaucrats respond to the needs of citizens and their preferences for participation and engagement can facilitate and nurture citizen participation (Potoski, 2002; Vigoda, 2002; West, 2004; Meier & O’Toole, 2006; Byer, 2007; Yang and Callahan, 2007; Handley & Howell-Moroney, 2010). It is imperative that engagement approaches focus on providing the required accommodation for divergent groups within communities as the cultural and social diversity of local populations grow (Qadeer, 1997). This would ensure a diversity of participants including immigrant populations, as they are often marginalized within the decision-making process due to various factors including socioeconomic and cultural differences (Andrulis, Siddiqui & Gantner, 2007) and language barriers (Schachter & Liu, 2005). Furthermore, this would lead to a stronger sense of satisfaction amongst citizens with local government (Box and Musso, 2004), improved service delivery (Alford, 2002), and enhanced acceptance of policy and decisions among stakeholders (Woolcock and Narayan, 2000).

The development of ICSPs were “designed to accelerate the shift in local planning and decision-making toward more long-term, coherent and participatory approaches to achieve sustainable communities” (Planning for Sustainable Canadian Communities Roundtable, 2005, p. 4). As part of a larger global movement to become sustainable, the ICSP is a product of the current era where there exists the concern and awareness of the impacts of human activities on the environment within policy and politics. As such, there has been advocacy for sustainable land use practices and sustainable development has been considered a new planning agenda at all levels of government (Vitousek et al., 1997; Beatley and Manning, 1998, Raco, 2005). This is evident through the creation and implementation of environmental policies, from local municipalities developing sustainability related planning policies to international environmental agreements. Rather than rename a standard strategic plan or have administration “fill in the blanks”, ICSPs are intended to be an opportunity to “broaden the scope of factors considered, lengthen the timeframe, and encourage participation and collaboration through participatory techniques” (Planning for Sustainable Canadian Communities Roundtable, 2005, p. 4). In this regard, as the Canadian Polar region’s population continues to grow, largely due to international migration, bureaucratic responsiveness to the needs and preferences of the changing social composition of their communities in developing engagement and consultation approaches will be pivotal to ensure that sustainability planning processes are inclusive and democratic.

 

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Author Biography

Nabl MalikNabil Malik has an interest in sustainability, stakeholder engagement and consultation, research, policy development and implementation. Through his undergraduate studies he ascertained a BA Spec. Hons. in Geography & Urban Studies and a Certificate in Migration & Refugee Studies. He pursed a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies in the Planning Program and a Graduate Diploma in Democratic Administration at York University (Toronto); receiving multiple scholarships and awards including a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Master’s Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada and funding from the Canadian Polar Commission. He has presented at several international professional and academic conferences. Currently, he is working as an urban planner in the Canadian Polar region and is a Network Member of Arctic-FROST, an international and interdisciplinary network aiming to mobilize research on sustainable Arctic and Sub-Arctic development.

Contact email: malik.nabil@gmail.com

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