A chapter from Who Owns the Environment?, a collection of essays edited by Peter Hill and Roger Meiners exploring the theory that environmental concerns are essentially property rights issues. In this chapter, Elizabeth Brubaker reviews the ancient roots of contemporary property rights and traces their evolution in Canada. She describes the ways in which concerned citizens have used their property rights to clean up and to prevent pollution. She then chronicles successive governments’ efforts to replace the common law with statutes and regulations governing the environment. Lastly, she recommends restoring strong property rights in order to return control over environmental degradation to those most directly affected by it.
Canada’s sewage system is a disgrace. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians dump their sewage, untreated, into our coastal waters. Over a million more contaminate our lakes and rivers with raw sewage. Sewage treatment plants, in desperate need of repair and upgrading, regularly violate provincial and federal laws. In Nova Scotia and British Columbia, non-complying plants are the norm. Six dozen plants in Ontario, and over four dozen in Quebec, exceed their discharge limits. Across the country, sewage pollution contaminates beaches and harbours, puts shellfish grounds off limits to harvesters, and kills fish.
When it comes to environmental protection, Canadians are like cocaine addicts: they have an insatiable craving for the very thing that made them sick in the first place. Or maybe I should say they’re like a mistreated puppy: they still love and trust the master who beat them, and they keep coming back for more.