By Lenore Zann
Something is burning in Nova Scotia and it’s not the wheels of government turning quickly.
In fact it is a question on more and more people’s minds, especially after our recent fall sitting of the legislature. The question is this: “What is happening to our environment?”
We don’t need to go far to find a community negatively impacted by poor environmental decision-making at the provincial level.
Just ask the folks in Pictou County fed up with the alarming level of emissions from the pulp mill, and the effects on their health. Ask the First Nations communities concerned about the impact of clear cutting and glyphosate spraying on our Acadian forests and wildlife. Likewise ask the residents of Shortts Lake engaged in their second round of fighting to prevent the incineration of tires at the Lafarge cement factory.
The answer to the question might be found in Environment Minister Iain Rankin’s recent responses to concerns I raised in the House of Assembly as NDP Environment spokesperson. Adept at deflecting criticism he refers to the rules and procedures in place, and claims the Environment Department’s decisions are strictly science and evidence-based.
However, I would argue that slacking off on environmental stewardship is a political choice. There are interests that stand to benefit from government turning a blind eye while ignoring the impact of industrial activity on our province’s natural ecosystems.
We even know that the McNeil government has been lobbied by Stephen McNeil’s campaign manager on behalf of Lafarge.
So when the Environment minister defends the right of a company to engage in a practice that interferes with our province’s highly successful tire recycling program and has been opposed for decades by local communities – and which a host of credible research has shown is a bad idea – I’m sorry, but I don’t buy the line that this is just the department doing its job.
There was a time when Nova Scotia was an environmental leader. I was proud to be part of the NDP government that put North America’s first hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions for electricity, an initiative recognized by the David Suzuki Foundation as one of the top five best moves on climate change. It was under NDP leadership that our province’s renewable energy goal for electricity was increased to 40 per cent by 2020. And we received praise from CPAWS for increasing our protected wilderness areas.
Instead, we have a government that couldn’t even be bothered to mention the environment or climate change in the speech from the throne.
Our caucus’s response to this non-action has been to put forward legislation to get our province back on track with environmental stewardship. This fall, as NDP environment spokesperson, I re-introduced our Environmental Bill of Rights which would empower citizens in the decision-making process for activities that would affect their communities. I was also proud to bring forward a bill to ban tire burning in Nova Scotia, and to re-introduce our UN-recommended bill to counter environmental racism.
We can do better in Nova Scotia than a government for whom the environment is an afterthought. We can do better than a cap-and-trade plan that allows multibillion-dollar corporations to continue polluting with little change to our carbon footprint.
After all, the future of our province depends on making sound environmental decisions now. We need to respond quickly and succinctly to the challenge of climate change because without a healthy, protected environment, a strong economy won’t matter. It is my sincere belief that both a strong economy and a healthy environment can co-exist. One just needs the political will – and backbone – to do so.
Lenore Zann is the MLA for Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River and the NDP Spokesperson for Environment.