Turning free trade to the environment’s advantage

September 2, 1989 Dear Friend, Whether you voted for or against the free trade deal, now that free trade is a reality it’s incumbent upon all of us who care about the environment to do everything we can to make the deal work for us. The next 60 months – during which our government will be back at the negotiating table to hammer out the meaning of subsidy – will be decisive in our environment’s future: These negotiations will determine whether or not our forests are spared, whether we can continue to subsidize environmentally destructive coal and nuclear plants, whether free trade means fair trade or whether it means an acceleration of the rape and pillage policies of the past. We all know about the free trade deal’s potential to add to the pressure to exploit our resources, but let me tell you about its potential to work wonders for us, because never before have Canadian environmentalists had such powerful allies. Consider this scenario in the upcoming negotiations: The influential U.S. lumber lobby, which has suffered at the hands of subsidized Canadian exports for decades, argues that the Canadian provinces, which own our forests, have been handing out logging licences for a song to Canadian forestry giants like MacMillan-Bloedel. As a result of these cut-rate contracts, the lobby points out, Canada has been deforesting its lands as fast as Third World countries while the U.S. has as much forest land today as it did at the turn of the century. Joining the fray on the side of the U.S. lumber barons are Canadian environmentalists and our native peoples who confirm the damage that subsidies have wrought. The negotiators rightly decide to consider these Canadian subsidies unfair, with the result that deforestation is slowed or halted in Canada. This scenario could be repeated in coal, potash, and other resource sectors, and similar scenarios could also apply to scores of environmental standards in Canada and the U.S., which are expected to be harmonized by the free trade deal. Because Canada’s standards tend to be lower than those in the U.S., harmonizing our standards to theirs will typically mean cleaner air for us to breathe and cleaner water for us to drink. None of this will be automatic. Business on both sides of the border can be expected to lobby for lower standards and provincial governments can be expected to continue to push subsidies for environmentally destructive megaprojects – despite the boom and bust cycles they bring – because megaprojects still buy votes. But “megaproject” is also becoming a dirty word. If we can continue to show how counterproductive they are, and to point to the success of the sustainable sectors of the economy, such as small manufacturing and the service industries that are responsible for most of the country’s job growth, we may replace the current megaproject mentality with regional development policies that are environmentally sound. The challenges are enormous, but so is the potential to do lasting good. Because so much is at stake at this pivotal time in our history, I have asked Environment Probe – a newly created project of the Energy Probe Research Foundation – to concentrate its efforts on this task. I am delighted to say that one of the country’s leading environmentalists, Lawrence Solomon, will be heading the effort. If anyone understands the environmental pros and cons of the free trade deal and what we must do to capture all the opportunities in it, it’s Larry, a founder of Energy Probe and one of Canada’s foremost authorities on the environment. He’s been studying the deal’s implications for three years, and recognized its positive aspects as far back as 1986, in a syndicated column I’m enclosing here for your interest. Larry is also the author of the Conserver Solution (Doubleday) which popularized the Conserver Society concept so many of us believe in. Much of what that book advocated a decade ago has come to pass, and the principles it set out for sustainable development are almost identical to the policies now prescribed for us by the recent UN Brundtland Commission. But past accomplishments will not finance our future operations. If Environment Probe is to succeed in its mission, it needs your support. As a nation, we decided in the last election to give free trade a chance. Let’s give the environment a chance too – the very best chance it’s likely to have in a long, long while – by giving Environment Probe the means to turn the free trade deal to our advantage. Sincerely, Walter Pitman Chairman, Energy Probe Research Foundation


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