Over the past few years, I’ve developed concern for our current Prime Minister’s environmental agenda. Under Stephen Harper government, protection of our natural resources has been seriously hindered through various policy implementations and modifications as well as considerable funding cuts to environmental research, programs and organizations.
The ideal behind this agenda is the development of the Canadian economy based on the extraction of oil out of the Alberta Tar Sands. The recent changes to environmental regulations have made it indirectly easier for major oil companies to gain access, develop and exploit numerous natural resources for the sole purpose of expanding the industry. Though development is important, the consequences of focusing an economy on what is described as “the most destructive project on Earth” are disastrous and would no doubt be amplified if our environmental protection regulations and provisions are destroyed.
With regard to natural biodiversity, the effects would be dire. The Tar Sands project has already been branded a sacrifice zone, referencing operations such as clear cutting of the Great Bear old-growth temperate rainforest. Ancient forests such as these provide countless ecosystem services, homes for rare, endangered and threatened species and house the kind of species richness and diversity that only a forest that has aged hundreds of years can provide. Degradation also takes place in the form of oil spills and leaks, creating unrepairable damage to oceans and bodies of fresh water as well as their inhabitants – fish and migrating birds.
The most radical transformation of environmental legislation was condemned by bill C-38: a budget bill which include changes to seven environmental statutes. Included in the bill are changes to:
- Fisheries Act
- Navigable Waters Protection Act
- Species at Risk Act
- Canadian Environmental Protection Act
- Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
As well as a complete cut of funding for:
- National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (an advisory panel) and
- The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science (awards research grants)
Besides changes in legislation, the bill translates to cuts in government scientist jobs, elimination of research projects as well as pollution control and monitoring programs.
To focus on just one of these statutes, let’s take the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Before Bill C-38, the Act prevented rampant resource development in the form of pipelines, bridges, power lines, dams etc. by enforcing a permit process which required approval for any works that may affect navigation in Canadian waters. Where there was once blanket protection for all bodies of water in Canada, the new bill covers only 97 lakes, 62 rivers and three oceans. Everything else is fair game.
Perhaps the most alarming trend is the withdrawal of Canada from global conventions, increasing the degree of isolation from the world stage of environmental issues. Since the election of Stephen Harper, Canada has pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol and the UN convention to combat desertification.
It’s an accumulation of these acts that is a part of a much broader problem in Canada; the promotion of a short-sighted, narrow interest at the expense of our natural resources. Canada, a nation who prides herself on long and hard fought for environmental regulations, has never seen an affront like this on these traditions, and the rate at which these changes are occurring have our nation headed towards an extremely degraded natural biodiversity and resource availability.
Thanks for reading!
Emily Janzen (U5291834)
Exchange student at ANU – Studying a B.Sc of Natural Resources Conservation at the University of British Columbia