Jean's Column on Environmental Protection for the Cowichan Valley Citizen - May 18, 2012

May 18th, 2012 - 7:52pm

Government plans to cut environmental reviews of major projects in Canada have many of my constituents calling my office to express their concern.

Many of those calling have talked about their own struggles as environmental activists: those who have worked to rehabilitate the Cowichan River; others who fought to keep development away from vulnerable habitat like the Somenos Marsh; others who spoke about the need to conserve our water sources and the natural systems that support them.

The budget implementation bill, C-38, contains the Conservative plans to dismantle environmental assessments by limiting who can present and the time an assessment will take to only two years.

There are also provisions that will allow the federal minister to decide that a project will only have a provincial environmental assessment even if the scope of the project means it would normally be assessed both by the provincial government and the federal. Since each government holds different responsibilities for protecting the environment, the lack of attention by federal environmental assessments could mean important implications of a project on natural water systems, endangered species or human health may not be considered.

I got my start in politics when council was considering zoning amendments to allow a gas-fired generation plant in the Valley that would have adversely impacted air quality. I participated in the public comment section of the environmental assessment and went on to run for council so we could ensure the project didn't move forward.

Some of the amendments put forward by the Conservatives would limit public participation in assessments to those directly affected by a proposal.

The definition of "directly affected" isn't clear. Does that mean only the people whose land the proposal is on? Will the neighbours whose water or air quality is affected have any say in whether a project should go forward?

Why should we care? Canada's independent Environment Commissioner warned in his most recent report that government failures will threaten Canada's economy and its environment for generations to come.

The report outlined how the government has failed to meet Kyoto Protocol targets (and Bill C-38 actually repeals the Kyoto Act) and will miss its own weak 2020 targets. It also linked thousands of contaminated sites across Canada to a lack of environmental assessments.

In the very same week the Conservatives are trying to dismantle environmental assessments we're reminded of the urgent need for these rules to protect the health of Canadians.