Looking back at this past year, it’s clear that Canadians individually have embraced an environmental ethic. But the further removed you get from the people, the less responsive the politicians.
Let’s start with the people. A November CBC poll found that 71 percent of Canadians said the federal government wasn’t doing enough to address their environmental concerns. This came on the heels of a McAllister Opinion Research poll that found 77 percent think Canada should meet or exceed the Kyoto Protocol targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, even though the federal government has abandoned those aims.
People want action on the environment, and they’re acting themselves. They’re buying more fuel-efficient vehicles, insulating their houses and otherwise making consumer choices that reflect environment values.
Their governments, not so much.
To be sure, this year saw progress on three major environmental fronts by the city of Halifax. Progress, but not nearly enough.
The newly adopted regional plan, which spells out how the city will grow over coming decades, reigns in suburban sprawl and concentrates development in denser cores, an important step in reducing the growth in car travel. Still, the city needs to adopt harsher measures, like taxing parking spaces and imposing developer fees and taxes to support transit.
The Harbour Solutions sewer project will work perfectly when it doesn’t rain, which isn’t often around here. Otherwise, raw sewage will still be dumped in the harbour, albeit after the larger particles are screened off. That’s great for tourists—no more “floatables” seen from the ferry—but not so much for the harbour. There’s a real concern that things might even get worse, as people begin dumping oil and toxins down their drains, mistakenly believing the “new sewer” will take care of them. That’s what those “talking harbour” TV commercials are all about.
Harbour Solutions comes on-line in 2007, but what’s required now is a retrofit of the entire city—a separation of sewer and storm drains throughout the Halifax peninsula and Dartmouth. It’s going to cost a lot of dough and take a lot of time, and no one’s even talking about doing it.
Green power? Again, the city is headed the right direction by aiming to acquire 25 percent of its electrical needs from renewable sources. But city officials have jiggled timelines so that there’s no hope of meeting Kyoto targets.
At Province House, Kyoto is a bad joke; there’s no provincial climate change plan at all.
Oh, there are noises about requiring Nova Scotia Power to acquire 15 percent of its power from green sources—the vague notion being that all of it will come from unproven tidal generators placed in the Bay of Fundy. But the bureaucracy is actively opposed to wind generation, the best source of green power that can be generated with present-day technology in Nova Scotia. It’s still illegal to buy electrical power directly from a wind generator and transport it over NSP lines.
What’s required is some real leadership. Just before Christmas, a coalition of New England and eastern Canadian environmental groups published a report showing how the provinces and states can meet the Kyoto targets, if they act—which is a big “if” in Nova Scotia.
On the federal level, well, name the issue—greenhouse gas reduction, fisheries, wilder- ness and endangered species protection, et cetera—in 2006 the federal government either moved backwards or not at all.
Consider 2006 a transitional year: Canadians got religion when it came to the environment. Hopefully, they’ll now hold their representatives’ feet to the global warming fire, and 2007 will be the year of action.
Share your environmental resolutions for 2007. Email: Timb@thecoast.ca