NATURE WISE: Liberal promises about the environment

Bob Handfield is president of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club and he writes a monthly column for the Penticton Western News.

I wonder if anyone ever reads the actual election platforms that the various parties put out during an election.

I know I never have in the past. For instance, the Liberal platform is 88 pages long — that’s right, 88 pages of promises of what they intend to do over the next four years. Many of these promises relate to environmental matters, so let’s take a look at a few of them and see what might be in store for us and the environment.

The new Minister of Environment and Climate Change is Catherine McKenna. While she appears to have zero experience in environmental issues, she does have an impressive resume so let’s hope that translates into achieving good things for our environment.

Under the Conservatives there were significant changes to the process of environmental assessments for both large and small projects. The Liberals have promised to “make environmental assessments credible again.”  A key factor here is that the platform states that “we will also ensure that environmental assessments include an analysis of upstream impacts and greenhouse gas emissions resulting from projects under review.”

I hope this means that cumulative effects will be taken into consideration. It is often easy to say that project X will have only a minor impact on the environment and the same may be true of projects Y and Z.

But what happens if we build all three. Each of the three may be minor in themselves but all three together may be very significant. So far, in B.C. at least, I don’t think cumulative effects are given any weight in the decision making process.

Also found here is this important statement: “We will also do more to protect Canada’s endangered species. We will respond more quickly to the advice and requests of scientists, and will complete robust species-at-risk recovery plans.”  You might remember that last month I wrote about the success that Ecojustice Canada lawyers had in suing the Federal Government over its lack of timely species-at-risk recovery plans.  Maybe these lawyers will now be able to move on to other things!

The section on water takes up almost a full page of the platform document beginning with this very simple statement: “We will protect our freshwater and oceans.”

Under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (of which Canada is a signatory) we are supposed to protect at least 10 per cent of our marine waters by 2020.  Progress to date: we are just over one per cent as of 2014, ranking us 23rd amongst OECD countries. The Philippines, Indonesia, Russia, the United States and many other countries are well ahead of us. The United States and Australia have both protected more than 30 per cent of their marine waters. The Liberals have promised to get us to five per cent by 2017 and 10 percent by 2020. This would be a huge step forward but would still leave us well back of the leaders.

Of course there is a lot more to protecting our waters than establishing marine protected areas and the Liberals have outlined what they intend to do.

Another platform plank dear to my heart is this statement: “We will preserve and promote Canada’s National Parks.” Canada is justifiably proud of our national park system, but the Conservative government cut more than $25 million from Parks Canada’s budget leading to program cuts and personnel layoffs. Among other things, the Liberals have promised to restore that money which will be huge in terms of allowing our Parks to restore programs and maintain the personnel necessary for a world-class system.

I look forward to our new government implementing these and the other commitments they have made.

The next meeting of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club will be Nov. 26.  Meetings are open to the public and feature an illustrated talk each month.  Our website (southokanagannature.com) has the details.

Bob Handfield is president of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club but the views expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of the Club.