The paradoxes of Canada’s conservation policies

John Bennett
Quoi Media

I still love them. Is that Crazy?

In the pilot episode of the Big Bang Theory, Penny revealed that even though she hated her lying cheating ex-boyfriend, she still loved him. “Is that crazy?” she asked.

“No,” said Leonard, “it’s a paradox. A paradox is part of nature!” Two opposing things can be true at the same time. It is certainly true for conservation in Canada. 

Prime Minister Trudeau kicked off the recent Biodiversity Conference in Montreal announcing $800 million for Indigenous led conservation projects. Like the Big Bang Theory, United Nations’ sponsored biodiversity negotiations have been going on for a long time. 

Climate change and biodiversity were recognized as important global issues at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Since then, nearly 200 countries have been negotiating targets and protocols while greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and loss of biodiversity have continued to grow.  

Traditionally, the host country kicks off each session with a positive announcement, so the Prime Minister’s announcement was no surprise.  He said Canada is committed to preserving 30 per cent of our territory by 2030, one of the targets set by previous biodiversity conferences. However, none of this preserving will interfere with business as usual nor be close to any urban area. 

Paradoxically, the announcement came on the heels of Ontario’s Premier Ford gutting the Greenbelt around Toronto after promising he wouldn’t touch it. The Greenbelt was seen internationally as a groundbreaking achievement in preserving our natural environment. A paradox within this paradox is the fact that the Ontario government’s own Housing Affordability Task Force report states, “A shortage of land isn’t the cause of the problem (lack of affordable housing).”

By the way, Ontario is touting its investment in a car battery plant as a major contribution to fighting greenhouse gas emissions, but it cancelled all its renewable energy projects and plans to replace them with gas fired power plants and unproven experimental small nuclear reactors. 

Meanwhile in Alberta, the newly minted Premier, Danielle Smith, began her tenure with the “Alberta Sovereignty Act.” This is a law to “protect the interests of Alberta” that gives her the power to ignore federal laws she doesn’t like. Isn’t this just double-speak for protecting oil and gas production from imminent federal emissions regulations? 

Even as the federal government says Canada is moving to conserve more of our natural environment, two of its largest provinces are moving in the other direction.

Then there is the paradox within the federal government itself.

The Montreal Port Authority (an arm’s length federal agency) is pushing ahead with a huge expansion to facilitate increased marine traffic. Not only will it mean significant increases in carbon and other air pollution (ships burn the dirtiest types of oil), the site is one of the last bits of habitat of the copper redhorse – a species of fish native to Quebec and the first species identified as threatened in the province. Scientists have told us for almost 20 years that urban development, agricultural practices and building dams have severely reduced the numbers of this fish.

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, the activist turned politician who is the epitome of a paradox, won’t intervene. He says the federal government wants to get politics out of environmental decisions. So why were all the politicians, including the minister, at the Biodiversity Conference in Montreal? 

Isn’t it pretty clear that politics are behind the federal government deciding to buy and build a pipeline across British Columbia, approve the Bay du Nord offshore oil development and give the nuclear industry a billion dollars for unproven experimental technology? 

I’m with Penny. I hate our “lying cheating” politicians, but I’d love to believe they’ll act on their new promises especially the new Global Framework for Biodiversity, which sets targets to protect and restore 30 per cent of the world’s land and ocean by 2030 and commits to addressing plastic waste and reducing the use of pesticides and hazardous chemicals by 50 per cent by 2030.

Is that crazy? Or am I just stuck in endless reruns too?
John Bennett is a Senior Policy Advisor at Friends of the Earth Canada.