Liberals deliver mixed results on environment

A look at the record of the Liberal government over the past 12 years on environmental issues

With a provincial election just over the horizon I thought it might be interesting to look at the record of the Liberal government over the past 12 years as it relates to environmental issues.

The Good: In 2011 the B.C. government passed the Flathead Watershed Area Conservation Act which permanently prohibits coal mining, oil, gas and mineral development on 400,000 acres in the Flathead River area of southeast B.C. Mind you, this might not have happened except that The Nature Conservancy of Canada, the federal government and The Nature Conservancy (USA) provided most of the funds needed to implement this act.

The Liberal government, since 2001, has established more than 50 new provincial parks including our local Skaha Bluffs (see the “but” below).

In 2008, the Liberal government brought in the carbon tax, an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is probably worthwhile, but the success of this tax is in dispute and there are many questions about whether it is, in fact, revenue-neutral as it was touted to be when brought in.

The Bad: In September of 2001 the provincial government released a study entitled The Economic Benefits of British Columbia’s Provincial Parks. This study concluded, amongst other things, that for every dollar spent by the provincial government on B.C. parks, there was about $10 return in visitor expenditures. It further concluded that parks in B.C. were directly and indirectly responsible for more than 9,100 jobs and that they generated about $500 million in economic activity. So guess what has happened: the parks budget has been cut over the intervening period by more than 25 per cent from about $40 million to just under $30 million for 2012. Needless to say, staff has been cut along with the budget so now B.C. has a total of 10 park rangers to protect 1,000 parks spread over the entire province.

There are only two provincial/territorial jurisdictions in Canada that do not have legislation to protect endangered species — yes, B.C. is one of the two (Alberta is the other one). Several years ago the provincial government drafted a new Wildlife Act including some updated legislation to protect species at risk, but they then tabled the legislation and it has not been heard of since.

B.C.’s Water Act was brought into law in 1909. Needless to say, a lot has changed since then but that is still the main law looking after our water resources. In 2010, the Liberal government made a big splash about updating and modernizing the Water Act to include dealing with the critical issue of ground water. After the release of four position papers, nothing has been heard about this since.

In early 2012, the B.C. government announced it was pulling out of the discussions to determine whether a national park should go ahead in the South Okanagan Similkameen. Since the Okanagan First Nations were, at that point, in the middle of their own feasibility study and virtually every business association and jurisdiction in the vicinity were in favour of the park or at the very least of continuing the discussions, this seemed like a very premature end to the discussions. Since then the First Nations have released their own study which concluded they should continue working towards the establishment of a national park.

Robert Handfield