Logging a majestic stand of hemlock and balsam in British Columbia’s coastal rainforest costs logging companies $100 a cubic metre. Selling the hemlock gets them an average of $60 a cubic metre, the balsam gets them less. "We lose $40 on every cubic metre of hemlock that we bring to the sawmill," explains Steve Crombie of Interfor, one of B.C.’s large product exporters.
In this presentation to a Student Seminar on Public Policy Issues, held in Toronto, Ontario, in November 1997, Elizabeth Brubaker argues that remote, centralized governments, driven by political considerations and insensitive to local circumstances, are not the best guardians of the public good. Environmental problems require a diversity of solutions devised by those most affected. Good information and strong property rights give people both tools and incentives to use their resources sustainably.
What do the Derwent anglers club in England, some New Brunswick riparians, a number of Quebec fishing clubs and many New Zealand fishermen have in common? They all have established property rights to the fish they catch.
Can you imagine a greater example of incompetence than the federal government’s stewardship of the east coast fishery, where the cod stocks have been recklessly depleted and entire communities are now on welfare, losing both their economic independence and their dignity? When the welfare runs out in several years, many of the communities will become ghost towns, emptied like the fisheries nearby.
Environmental assessments and the public hearings that should scrutinize them were intended to empower the public to bring forward its concerns over projects that threatened their communities. Regrettably, environmental assessments—which are generally produced by promoters to justify their projects—often became cosy arrangements in which industry and government negotiated deals behind the public’s back, and circumvented public hearings. The result of those closed door arrangements were fiascos such as the Darlington nuclear power plant, which was never needed and which now threatens Ontario Hydro with bankruptcy, and the subsidized clear-cutting of old growth forests, which simultaneously ravaged our heritage and our economy.
Canada’s image, both domestic and foreign, is that of a country of endless lakes and rivers. A perception of unlimited abundance is reflected in Canadians’ water consumption, which amounts to approximately 350 litres a day per capita, or more than twice that of many western Europeans. To a large extent, however, the superabundance of water is exaggerated. Much of the water in Canada is geographically inaccessible, available at inappropriate times, or polluted.
Between 0.6% and 9.3% of provincial lands exist as more protected wilderness areas, wilderness zones or protected national parks. These protected areas comprise between 48% and 95% of total park lands in the provinces. Commercial timber harvesting occurs in Manitoba’s provincial parks, two Ontario provincial parks, and one national park (Wood Buffalo National Park). Mineral extraction occurs in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia parks. Oil and natural gas wells are found in four Alberta parks, in two Saskatchewan parks and in one Manitoba park.
Wherever trees grow on private land, forest owners seem to draw the ire of their governments. The government of Ontario has a problem with the way many of its small, private woodlot owners tend their forests: They won’t cut down their trees. The government’s surveys conclude that these smallholders – mostly farmers, professionals and retirees, who control more that 10 million acres of timberland – have what government experts call "a rather indifferent attitude" toward their land.
The environment has been one of the hottest election issues going but the Canadian Wildlife Federation – Canada’s largest conservation group – and Pollution Probe – Canada’s largest environmental advocacy organization – haven’t received much press during the campaign. The cameras, instead, have been focused on those prepared to make unequivocal predictions: tub-thumping free traders like federal negotiator Simon Reisman, who have insisted the deal won’t affect the environment in the least, and fervent anti-free traders like the Canadian Environmental Law Association, who have claimed the free trade deal will lead to our environment’s certain destruction.