the time this article was written Donald MacKinnon represented Winsloe-West
Royalty in the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island. He was appointed
Minister of Development in August of 1998. This paper was presented to the 37th Canadian Regional Conference of the CPA held in Toronto
from July 18-24, 1998.
article looks at various environmental issues in Prince Edward Island and the
rest of Canada and comes to the conclusion that legislators and
parliamentarians must not permit continued abandonment of the environmental
Have the Public and Government
abandoned the environmental file? For the most part, I think the answer to this
question is YES; particularly if we define “abandonment” as including: the
withdrawal of financial, technical and moral support from the commitments of
previous governments, and governments in waiting; and the relaxed sense of
urgency on some environmental issues, often in the face of a preponderence of
scientific evidence. One example of an environmental issue meeting this
definition is that of climate change, more commonly known as global warming.
In 1988, Canada hosted and
sponsored the first international Conference on Climate Change that concluded,
“Humanity is conducting a vast unintended, uncontrolled globally pervasive
experiment, whose ultimate consequences are second only to global nuclear war!”
In 1993, the federal government
in waiting, made a series of “green promises” one of which was a 20% reduction
in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by the year 2005. At the Kyoto
Conference last year, our government agreed to undertake a reduction in
emissions to a mere 6% below 1990 levels by the year 2010. Today,
unfortunately, identifying climate change as a problem and doing something
about it, are two very different propositions.
To my mind, this delay of action
and even reversal of previous commitments constitutes abandonment of the
Climate Change File. Until very recently, environmental indifference and lack
of political will was also the standard as successive Prince Edward Island
governments undertook a number of studies related to land use and environmental
issues, only to have them sit on the shelf while the province developed in an ad
hoc fashion, seriously limiting future options and placing the health and
economic well-being of Islanders at risk.
As a result, public interest in
the Environmental File increased dramatically for a number of specific reasons:
- the rapid expansion of the potato industry
- increased soil erosion
- accelerated land clearing and clearcutting of forests,
- increased pesticide use and the resultant conflicts
between agricultural producers and their non-farming neighbours.
In 1996, former PEI Premier
Catherine Callbeck’s Speech from the Throne announced Government’s intention to
develop a Resource Land Use Strategy and later the same year newly elected
Premier Pat Binns honoured the commitment.
The 16-member Round Table on
Resource Land Use and Stewardship was formed and represented a healthy
cross-section of Island Society with an interest in the province’s natural
resources and the opportunities they present, provided they are managed in a sustainable
manner. Public participation in the process was strong and meaningful.
A comprehensive report followed
in September 1997, and the following 8 months was filled with standing
committee hearings and assembly debate on the 87 recommendations, many of which
resulted in new legislation or regulation change. For example, the last session
of the House passed a number of new or amended Acts including:
- The Lands Protection Act
- The Forest Management Act
- The Farm Practices Act
- The Environmental Tax Act, and
- The Wildlife Conservation Act
In addition, guidelines were
adopted for Manure Management and the Environmental Impact Process, as well as
a Natural Areas Protection policy aimed at increasing the land base for
Prince Edward Island is also
developing a province-wide Waste Management Strategy, that will begin operating
January 1, 1999, to achieve a waste diversion target of 65 percent to exceed
the natural goal established by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the
Only through the
application of comparable environmental standards throughout the US and Canada,
can the environmental consequences of deregulation be mitigated.
It will follow the Waste Watch
source separation model and function as a privately owned Utility, and as such,
will be the first of its kind in North America. The Province is presently
looking into the feasibility of packaging and marketing this model to other
areas of the world to raise the “eco-image” of Prince Edward Island.
I believe Islanders have been
agressively dealing with environmental concerns for the past 2 years, but much
work needs to be done, particularly in the area of ground water protection
since we rely entirely on ground water sources for potable water.
Because potato production relies
heavily on chemical fertilizers, nitrate levels have been on the rise in ground
water sources for the past decade, and although pesticides have not been found
in ground water to date, it can be said that where nitrate build-ups occur one
can expect to find pesticide contamination in due course.
Presently, the Department of the
Environment has completed the second year of a three-year study to assess the
presence of high and moderate use pesticides in heavily farmed areas of the province.
Some pesticide products being used on Prince Edward Island are banned in many
countries around the world for environmental and health reasons. It is
important to note that the federal government, through a number of departments
and agencies, administers a wide variety of legislative instruments which have
relevance to water and aquatic life on PEI, including the Pest Control
Products Act, which addresses the registration and use of pest control
products in Canada.
Because of this jurisdictional issue,
progress to date regarding key pesticide recommendations of the Round Table
Report has been proceeding slowly. The Environmental File can be active in
Prince Edward Island, but without intergovernmental cooperation it is extremely
difficult to achieve positive results in some areas.
There are however, a number of
very important environmental issues presently receiving significant
intergovernmental cooperation. In June 1997, the conference of New England
Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers recognized that acid rain deposition is
a joint concern for which a regional approach on research and strategic action
The New England/Eastern Canadian
Acid Rain Action Plan was developed to address those aspects of the acid rain
problem in the Northeast that are within the region’s control to influence.
Specifically, the Action Plan includes:
- A comprehensive and co-ordinated plan for further
reducing emissions of sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen.
- A research and monitoring agenda targeted at both
improving the state-of-the-science for this environmental problem and
increasing regional cooperative efforts in sharing research and analyzing
the effectiveness of current control programs; and,
- A public education and outreach agenda to ensure the public
continues to be educated and mobilized towards the overall goal of
protecting the natural environment.
While acid rain is a regional
problem that requires regional solutions, out-of-region sources contribute
significantly to this environmental threat; the New England States and Eastern
Canadian Provinces stress the need for appropriate control on sources outside
Even though recent studies in
the US and Canada suggest that a reduction of sulfur and nitrogen deposition of
at least 50% below existing clean air standard is required to protect sensitive
resources; the task of doing so is becoming increasingly difficult.
Restructuring of the electric power industry in the US poses a significant
environmental threat to New England and Eastern Canada, as deregulation favours
a production shift from higher cost facilities to those with lower operating
costs like high-polluting coal-fired units in the midwestern states and central
Another environmental issue
being dealt with intergovernmentally is mercury contamination. The New England
Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers have as their goal, “the virtual
elimination of the discharge or anthropogencic mercury into the environment, an
action that is required to ensure that serious or irreversible damage,
attributable to these sources, is not inflicted upon human health and the
In developing the Acid Rain and
Mercury Action Plans, the Governors and Premiers recognize, that in order to
protect human health and the environment, the precautionary principle shall be
used. Where there are threats of serious and irreversible damage, lack of full
scientific certainty shall not be a rationale for postponing measures to
prevent environmental degradation and to protect public health.
In my opinion, the precautionary
principle must also be applied to the issue of Climate Change. Consider this,
the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that an
immediate 60% reduction in fossil-fuel use is necessary just to stabilize
climate at the current level of disruption; yet Robert Peterson, Imperial Oil’s
chairman states “I feel very safe in saying that the view that burning fossil
fuels will result in global climate change remains an unproved hypothesis.”
The fact is, the clear majority
of the world’s foremost weather scientists agree: “the balance of evidence
suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climates” and
the burning of fossil-fuels is one of those influences.
It is becoming
increasingly difficult to keep the environmental file open on the really big
issues because of the international dimension and the magnitude and influence
of the players involved.
Another example where the
environmental file has been abandoned by government is in the field of
alternate energy research and development, one area where on-going progress
must continue if we are to be in a position to act on the climate change file,
if and when we decide to do so.
In the early 1980s, when the
availability of cheap fossil fuel was threatened, the federal government,
largely the National Research Council, acted quickly to sponsor wind energy
research and development, because this source electrical power generation is
one of the cleanest, cheapest and most readily available.
Financial and technical support
was magnificent, in fact $30 million was advanced to one wind energy test site
alone, that being Cap Chat on the Gaspé Peninsula. Today however, with crude
oil being cheaper than bottled water, support has waned. The total national
budget this year is $600,000 and even this paltry sum is on a short-term
As a result, innovative thinking
and planning, such as electrification of the national rail system, or even
regulatory consideration that would allow individuals generating clean power to
contribute to, or extract from, the national grid on an equitable basis have
Consider this, the burning of
transportation fuel contributed to more than 30% of Canada’s green-house gas
emissions, yet Ottawa’s transportation strategies continue to support the
rubber-tired railway without estabishing parallel policies to develop more
environmentally friendly infrastructure.
Here is an illustration of how
the environmental file has been abandoned. Environment Canada, once the seventh
largest government department is now one of the smallest among twenty-one
departments. Consequently, the federal government has cut back in areas like
environmental protection and research, acid rain monitoring stations, freshwater
ecosystem research, many aspects of regulation enforcement and public
Governments are concerned that
addressing the big environmental issues in any meaningful way may negatively
affect international competitiveness and economic well-being, and the public,
for the most part, either do not know the issues, do not care or simply are not
prepared to make the personal sacrifices necessary, either in monetary or
It appears as though a choice is
inevitable, in simple terms, it is economic growth driven largely by
fossil-fuel consumption or environmental quality. Our present course of action
will not allow us to have it both ways.
Perhaps the recently appointed
Climate Change Secretariat will find a way to keep the Kyoto Commitment from
becoming a shallow and romantic promise; but one thing is certain; in order to
compel other jurisdictions to act, Canadians must first take pro-active steps
to find workable solutions to help solve the problem at home.
With strong political leadership
and the support of a well-educated and well-informed public, the 21st
century can belong to Canada in ways only future generations will be able to