Ecojustice Blog – Healthy communities, Nature Posted on March 21, 2013 (updated: February 17, 2015)

Pitting the environment against the economy is bad business, bad politics

Devon PageLawyer

We must choose between a healthy environment and a strong economy. That’s the flawed lens through which we’ve been conditioned to view the challenges Canada faces when it comes to industrial development, protecting the well-being of our communities and preserving our natural heritage.

Over the last several months, the federal government has used this narrative to rationalize its efforts — largely represented by the last two budget bills, C-38 and C-45 — to dismantle some of Canada’s most important and long-standing environmental laws.

But in reality, the environment vs. economy argument is based on a false dichotomy. When it comes to the environment and economy, there is no either-or; without one, you can’t have the other. A healthy environment supports a sustainable economy and vice-versa. And according to a recent public opinion poll, you don’t have to be an economist or an environmentalist to agree.

Eighty-five per cent of Canadians believe diverse and abundant populations of wildlife play a crucial role in supporting the country’s economy and health, according to a national poll conducted by Ipsos Reid for Ecojustice, Nature Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Federation. The poll examined Canadian attitudes around endangered species and the federal government’s responsibility to protect them. When asked what should have a greater influence on decisions regarding species at risk in Canada, over three in four said scientific advice should take precedence; many said economic considerations should also carry weight.

The message from Canadians is clear: It’s about balance, supporting the delicate relationship between economic growth and preserving the ecosystems which sustain this growth, our lives and those of other species. Healthy and intact ecosystems supply our drinking water, enrich our soil and regulate the climate, providing the clean air, water and land we all need to survive. They are also important drivers of our economy, supporting heartbeat industries like forestry, fishing, agriculture and tourism.

Canadians have also made it clear that they expect the federal government to make sure we achieve this balance. When asked who has the greatest responsibility for ensuring the survival and recovery of Canada’s species at risk, over half of respondents pointed to the federal government over its provincial and territorial counterparts, industry or environmental groups.

Unfortunately, the poll also revealed that three in five Canadians feel the federal government isn’t living up to this responsibility and should strengthen and better enforce Canada’s endangered species laws. This overwhelming support for strong laws to protect wildlife and the environment (and in turn, our economy) — and for governments that implement and enforce them — is something the federal environment minister should consider as he contemplates changing the Species at Risk Act to make it more “efficient.”

In the space of mere months the federal government has deregulated some of the country’s most important environmental protection laws, burying deep cuts to landmark legislation like the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act in a pair of omnibus budget bills supposedly aimed at bolstering economic growth. One of the last laws left standing is the Species at Risk Act, which not only protects endangered wildlife but also the ecosystems that they (and we) depend on. More than 500 species — from British Columbia’s resident killer whale to Quebec’s harlequin duck — are currently listed under the act.

While we all seem to agree that Canada can and must do a better job of protecting endangered species, recent research conducted by Ecojustice — and now public opinion — tell us that the way to start is by dropping the environment-vs.-economy fallacy and letting science guide us.

Science has long shown that the environment and the economy are interdependent. And in the case of protecting Canada’s species at risk, it provides a clear roadmap of what we must do to ensure their survival and recovery: Identify the plants and animals that need help; restrict activities that threaten or kill them; protect their habitat; and take active steps to help them recover. And we need to do this for all species at risk within our borders, regardless of whether they also live in the United States (incidentally, more than three-quarters of Canadians agree with the science on this).

It’s time for the federal government to follow the science, show some leadership and fulfill its responsibilities under Canada’s endangered species law. Making sure we take care of endangered species and the air, water and land we all need isn’t just good for business. It’s common sense.

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