Attempts to protect Canada's lakes, rivers 'all but abandoned': analysis

By CTV News, 1 September 2015

A statistical analysis of the Conservative government's changes to environmental laws and procedures suggests Ottawa has "all but abandoned" attempts to protect Canada's lakes and rivers.

"Over the last decade, what we've seen is a not-so-gradual abandonment of the fish habitat protection field," said University of Calgary law professor Martin Olszynski. (...)

Olszynski found environmental oversight by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans dropped dramatically during the 2000s -- a time when Canada saw huge spending in the resource industries.

And he concludes changes to environmental law in 2012 weren't intended to cut red tape, as the government suggested, but to lower the environmental bar. (...)

In a paper for the Journal of Environmental Law and Practice, Olszynski shows the number of proposals to the department's Central and Pacific regions fell to fewer than 4,000 by 2014 from more than 12,000 in 2001. (...)

In 2004, the government decided to minimize oversight for projects deemed low-risk, which cut the number of projects it reviewed in half. The rest of the decrease came in 2012 after the government revamped environmental laws.

Olszynski reports that environmental warnings and charges under the Fisheries Act fell to about 50 from about 300. Staff time allotted to enforcement dropped to 10,000 hours from 35,000.

The department's budget was cut by $80 million in 2012. Another $100 million in cuts are planned over three years beginning this year. (...)

Meanwhile, records show that the pace of development on rivers and lakes has kept roughly stable. A number of studies and peer-reviewed papers have also documented rapidly increasing impacts on forests and waterways.

The federal government has argued it's getting out of the regulatory end, so provinces can take over and duplication is reduced. (...)

Scaling back assessments for low-risk developments can be a valid way to reduce regulatory burdens, Olszynski said. But to work, he said, it requires credible oversight and enforcement.

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Image: Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS

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