ENVIRO NOTES: Feds ignoring our environment

Two of the three pillars in Surrey's Sustainability Charter are being ignored by the government in favour of the third – the economic one.

When Surrey developed its Sustainability Charter, it recognized that three elements are involved.

They are called ‘pillars’ in the charter: economic (business and industry), environmental and socio-cultural (people).

As with a three-legged stool, these pillars or elements or legs are all equally important.

Sadly, it seems the federal government doesn’t believe in this trinity and is promoting one element – the economic one – at the immediate expense of the environmental and to the longer-term danger to the socio-cultural one.

Honeyed phrases and assurances that this is not so are belied by their actions.

That ministers resort to name-calling and spurious denigration of opponents suggest they lack persuasive counter arguments.

Also, it’s ironic that they rail against outside financial support for environmental groups yet say nothing about the involvement of foreign companies in the oil industry.

One cannot argue against genuine streamlining of the environmental review of any proposed development, so as to avoid duplication and overlap, but that is not at all the same thing as excluding concerned groups that have a valid interest, as is planned, or putting a time limit on examination and debate.

How can anyone reliably predict how long it will take to conduct a thorough analysis of a large-scale project?

Worse, the assertion that Ottawa will have the final say “in the national interest” opens the way for a simply political decision rather than one based on evidence, as seems to be happening in the case in the Enbridge pipeline proposal.

Proposed amendments to the Fisheries Act – which delete the vital word ‘habitat’ from consideration – display either a woeful lack of understanding of ecological processes or a willful effort to lessen the extent and applicability of environmental protection.

I am sure that professionals in Fisheries and Oceans Canada comprehend the complexity of environmental interactions and so, reluctantly, must accept the second possibility – that it is a conscious and deliberate emasculation of the act and its provisions.

Other questions arise and require honest answers if we are to understand the Canadian government’s interest in, and care for, our country’s natural environment:

• Why has the Canadian Environmental Agency’s budget been reduced by more than 40 per cent for 2012-13, after a seven per cent cut the previous year? How can it now fulfill its mandate?

• Why are the existing regulations only so weakly enforced that, in 20 years, pollution offences have resulted in little more that $2 million in fines, and now Environment Canada’s pollution specialists are to be laid off or re-assigned?

• How does the government propose better environmental assessments, as last year’s throne speech promised, at the same time as it is reducing staff by one-third?

• Why are changes to environmental laws buried in the omnibus Bill C38 so that critical examination is inhibited?

• Why are reputable scientists forbidden to discuss their findings even if these results have been reported in professional journals?

Failure to answer such questions without ‘spin’ or obfuscation makes it easy to believe that there is something to hide.

It’s an extreme case and almost certainly not to be repeated on such a large land mass as Canada, but the government would do well to reflect on the fate of Easter Island where unthinking environmental degradation destroyed a community’s way of life.

There’s a stark warning – the environment matters!

Dr. Roy Strang writes monthly on the environment for the Peace Arch News. rmstrang@shaw.ca

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