Our governments are paying forestry companies to tear down our Crown-owned forests and ship them to the U.S. and Asia. Here’s how our "forest management system" works, taking British Columbia’s rainforests as an example.
Last May, a deadly strain of E. coli bacteria contaminated the water system in Walkerton, Ontario. A testing lab informed the Public Utilities Commission of the contamination, but, inexplicably, the PUC withheld the information from both the public and the government for the following five days. Not until the medical officer of health, alarmed by the soaring cases of bloody diarrhea in the town, conducted independent tests did the PUC confess its dirty secret. The information came too late: The contaminated water killed six people and sickened 2,000.
This is an unusual appeal. I am writing to ask you to help environmental groups in your area rethink their approach to wilderness protection.
I am writing to ask for your help in saving our endangered species. Over the last 200 years, we have lost at least 27 species or subspecies of mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, molluscs, butterflies, and plants. The Queen Charlotte Islands no longer support a woodland caribou population; grizzly bears and black-footed ferrets no longer roam the Prairies; Ontario has lost the longjaw cisco and the blue walleye; the great auk and sea mink have disappeared from eastern Canada; and the Atlantic walrus and gray whale have abandoned the northwest Atlantic Ocean.
I’m feeling a little nostalgic. It’s the tenth anniversary of Environment Probe’s founding, and as I look back over my time here, I find my mind wanders less to the small victories we’ve had from time to time, and more to the rewarding comments I’ve received from supporters over the years, comments that touched and inspired me and led me to squirrel them away in a special file. I’d like to share several of them with you.
Politics – not science – drives far too many decisions at the government department in charge of Canada’s fisheries. The extent to which the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has become politicized, and the tragic results, have been made frighteningly clear over the course of the past year.
This summer, we received a letter from an Australian lobster fisher. He had just met a Canadian fisher, who had given him a photocopy of an Environment Probe chapter from a book about the crisis in our Atlantic fisheries. Excited about our ideas, he invited us to speak at a conference of fishers, fisheries managers, and scientists from Australia and New Zealand.
These are bad times for Canada’s forests. We are slowly losing our forested areas across the country, as new growth fails to keep up with increased harvests. And we are plagued by bitter conflicts over how forests should be managed. In Northeastern Ontario’s Temagami region, disputes over logging have resulted in demonstrations, blockades, arrests, court challenges, and even an explosion. The Ontario government has opened up vast areas in the region to logging and mining. But native people claim the area’s lands as their own and demand the right to manage them. Meanwhile, environmentalists insist that the provincial government close access roads and set up a wildland reserve to preserve some of our last remaining old-growth white pines.
Back in 1989, Environment Probe campaigned to turn free trade to the environment’s advantage. Since then, the environmental impacts of free trade have been hotly debated. Critics have rightly pointed out that, in theory, governments may be hamstrung in imposing certain environmental standards. But other enterprising environmentalists have capitalized on free trade to reduce subsidies to—and raise standards in—our environmentally destructive resource sectors.
Quebec’s bureaucrats don’t appreciate our findings. They complain that our recent study of sewage pollution in Quebec makes them look like they’re incompetent, or not doing their jobs. And no wonder. The study, by Environment Probe researcher Martin Nantel, points out that although Quebec has made considerable progress since the 1970s (when wastewater treatment facilities served less than two per cent of the population), 376 municipalities, representing 1.5 million people, still flush their sewage directly into lakes and rivers. When we released the study early this year, media interest created great consternation in government ranks. The Environment Minister is now demanding explanations from senior bureaucrats, who berate our uncompromising positions.
Over a century ago, in 1885, Antoine Ratté filed a lawsuit against several of Canada’s most notorious polluters. That suit and the government’s reaction to it established a shameful pattern that governs pollution across Canada to this day.
Earlier this year, the Quebec government, conceding that it was subsidizing Norsk Hydro, a multinational magnesium producer, agreed to stop subsidizing the company’s magnesium smelter, which is a major polluter. It did so following official trade protests by a U.S. industry group—the Non-Ferrous Producers Committee—over Norsk’s access to subsidized water and subsidized electricity. This industry lobby, for its part, decided to use trade remedy laws after being contacted by Environment Probe, who alerted it to the Free Trade Agreement and how it could be used to prevent the export of Canada’s resources at the expense of Canada’s environment.
As you know all too well, Canadians will soon need to decide the future of our country through the makeup of our new constitution. None of the government’s proposed constitutional changes were designed with the environment in mind but some changes will certainly affect the environment. I am writing you to explain why one proposal in particular—the economic union—would benefit the environment, and so deserves your support.
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.