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Get Government Out of the Way and Let Corporations Flourish

2012/03/23

Canada has a new budget coming out next week and according to the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), a major theme of that budget is “get government out of the way and let corporations flourish”.  Overall, the goal is for the federal government to “pay less attention to small projects, impose time limits on major environmental hearings and pull out of the process altogether if a province is ready to step in with similar standards.”

How do I know that this is bad news for Canada’s environment?  An executive at Canadian Oil Sands Ltd. said that he is “encouraged by the current thrust toward regulatory reform.”  If the people behind the most environmentally devastating industrial project on the planet like the changes, I’m concerned.

According to the David Suzuki Foundation, at risk of being affected are a number of environmental laws: the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Species At Risk Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Oceans and Fisheries Act.  However, the proposed changes to the Oceans and Fisheries Act are the ones that have been getting the most press – as well as the greatest amount of complaints from scientists, environmentalists, fisherman and even former conservative ministers.

The proposed changes to the Oceans and Fisheries Act would see the government be responsible for protecting the fish, but not the surrounding habitat (WHAT?!?  That’s like saying “I’m responsible for protecting my furniture, but sure, go ahead and set fire to my house”).  A group of 625 scientists wrote a letter to Prime Minister Harper, urging him to reconsider.  According to the lead author of that letter, the proposed changes to the Oceans and Fisheries Act “would basically give proponents of projects license to do anything they pleased.”  This includes the proposed Northern Gateway Pipelinewhich would cross hundreds of fish-bearing streams and rivers.

In theory, regulatory reform is not a bad idea.  However, changes to laws that are meant to protect the environment should not be part of a budget.  They deserve more careful deliberation and debate that is based on scientific facts.  Unfortunately, according to Dr. Jeff Hutchings (one of the 625 scientists mentioned above), it seems that our own government’s scientists have not been involved in the crafting of the proposed changes to environmental regulations.

This is a case of ideology trumping science.

However, sacrificing the environment for corporate profits and government income is a short-sighted ideology.  It assumes that that there will be no negative impact to the Canadian economy if our air, water and soil is polluted (which there will be).  It assumes that other industries such as fishing, tourism and agriculture do not need clean air, water and soil (which they do).  It assumes that Canadians will not be physically harmed by the pollution of our air, water and soil (which they are).  Finally, it assumes that Canada will be better off if corporations are left to their own devices.

Remember the BP oil spill of 2010?  4,9 million barrels of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.  And two years later, the fishing industry of Louisiana is collapsing.  That is what happens when government deregulates and corporations are left to their own devices.

I recently finished reading the book “More Good News” by David Suzuki and Holly Dressel (more on the book in a later post).  And at the end of the chapter on fresh water, there is a quote by Victor Munnik, a South African water policy specialist.  He says:

We have to adapt our economic development according to the water resources that we have, not vice versa.  The impact on our water needs to be integrated from the very beginning into every economic development plan.

I would go one step further and say that the a truly responsible government would make sure that the impact on every ecosystem be integrated into every economic development plan.  Because not matter how hard we try and ignore it, every negative environmental impact that an industry has ends up costing something to someone, somewhere, at some point in the future.

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