The British Columbia government today released a report on the current government practice of relying on professionals hired by the industry to manage the risk to public health and the environment as we develop our natural resources. The report follows an 8-month provincial review process to examine whether qualified professionals have the tools and structure to ensure both the protection of the public interest and the conservation of B.C.’s wildlife and wildlife habitat.
The “professional reliance” model was adopted by the former B.C. government in the context of an extensive plan to reduce “red tape” by eliminating environmental and health protection laws and concurrently reducing, by over 25 percent, B.C.’s civil service professionals responsible for stewarding and policing B.C.’s natural environment.
The newly released report points to significant failings in the professional reliance model and makes clear that “regulatory outsourcing” compromises the public interest and the environment.
A coalition of environmental, labour and professional organizations, the Professional Reliance Working Group, formed to be a strong, unified voice urging the government to take back primary responsibility for stewardship of the environment by restoring laws, standards, and compliance systems. The group asserts that weak planning, oversight, compliance and enforcement processes has resulted in disasters such as Mt. Polley and Shawnigan Lake, and has led to endangered and threatened fish and wildlife populations, airshed pollution and logging that compromises drinking water.
“We want to see recommendations in the report implemented immediately,” said group member Devon Page, the executive director of Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity. Page said, “As a result of the former government gutting the province’s natural resource laws, the public has lost confidence that we’re appropriately stewarding B.C.’s amazing natural legacy.” Page wants the government to move as quickly as possible to take back its role as steward of the natural environment. He said, “This includes restoring land use planning, protecting endangered species, updating our mining laws, achieving water sustainability, restoring sound forest practices, and embracing First Nations reconciliation.”
Scott McCannell, executive director of the Professional Employees Association, said, “We deserve an independent professional reliance system that the public can trust to protect their health and safety and to safeguard the province’s environment and natural resources. This means the government is going to need to start to address the 25 percent reduction of its own professional staff.”
“The government needs to reclaim its leadership role in resource and environmental stewardship,” said B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union president Stephanie Smith. “Corporations shouldn’t be allowed to certify their own resource plans or police their own operations. It’s a conflict of interest, pure and simple.”
“We applaud the initial focus on better regulation of professionals and ensuring they meet a high standard,” said Pat Moss, executive director of the Northwest Institute for Bioregional Research, an organization that has worked on resource issues in northwest B.C. for over 20 years. Moss cautions that without strong laws and government oversight, this risks being regulatory outsourcing done better. She said, “We look forward to the B.C. government following through on introducing strong environmental and resource legislation, and restoring the B.C. government oversight and decision-making role.”
The Professional Reliance Working Group is unanimous that to achieve these goals government must ensure that:
Who Are We?
We are a working group of concerned and knowledgeable individuals who reflect the concerns of the public, government professionals, retired professionals, ENGO and Union community regarding the process of professional reliance. Members of the working group are:
Professional Employees Association
Organizing for Change
BC Wildlife Federation
BC Government Employees Union
Fraser Watershed Initiative
Evidence for Democracy