Calling Canada Out: How Nice Are Our Environmental Policies?

Special guest post by Skaana volunteer Emma Eslake

 Photo (Mark Leiren-Young) Trudeau: Home of the Whopper? 

Photo (Mark Leiren-Young) Trudeau: Home of the Whopper? 

Stereotypes can be harmful. Coming from a country whose people are known for being “nice,” they can even be dangerous. Comparing ourselves to a country the world knows has more controversial policies and politicians than us, with a president who actively promotes violence and bigotry, is not winning, it’s just not losing. And that's not enough. Especially not when our environment and our wildlife is at stake. In Canada, our environmental policies have a long and strong history of taking a back seat to our economic policies. While Justin Trudeau may say he is determined to find a way to reconcile both, his policy record thus far proves otherwise.

            Given the new administration in the US, it is easy to look at our country and feel nothing but pride. Canada has managed to regain its top spot on the Reputation Institute’s 2017 list of most reputable countries in the world. And who wouldn’t be proud of this? It measures not only the effectiveness of the government, but also the economy and the environment. But is it an accolade we deserve?

            We hide behind our stereotypes and the controversies of others. It is time we acknowledge that, yes, while Donald Trump wants to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, and there are near constant debates about the existence of climate change in the US, our environmental policies aren’t perfect. Take a look at the animals on the Species at Risk Act (SARA) list. The Southern Resident Orcas are listed as endangered and under federal protection according to the SARA website. Orcas have been on the list for over a decade, but little has been done to protect them from extinction or to promote population growth as per SARA's mandate. In fact, it was not until a number of environmental NGOs put forth a lawsuit that a plan of action was even drafted by the government. Ultimately, even after a second iteration, the plan of action failed to address some key concerns, such as the availability of salmon for these orcas to eat and noise pollution that interferes with their communication and echolocation.

            The extreme ineffectuality of the Species at Risk Act is failing to protect endangered species and, in some cases, is putting them more at risk because it leads people to believe the government is helping these animals when it isn’t. Orcas are only one of hundreds of animals on that list and while there may be some success stories, many animals are overlooked in favour of economic practices.

            When the US pulled out of the Paris Agreement, Trudeau did not hesitate to express his disappointment that they appeared to be moving backwards, while everyone else appears to be dedicated to protecting the earth for future generations. Canada has set a goal to lower our greenhouse gas emissions by 30% compared to the levels from 2005, and when Trudeau was elected as Prime Minister, many hoped Canada’s environmental policies would improve under his leadership. He not only acknowledged climate change and the harm it does, but told us that our environmental and economic policies would align. It quickly became clear this was not going to be the case after he approved the Kinder Morgan and LNG pipelines.

            In fact, while our country has set a clear goal to lower our GHG emissions in the next thirteen years, the LNG pipeline could become the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the entire country. While it is currently on hold, as the Malaysian company Petronas set to finance it has pulled out, it is not dead, so it could still pose a massive threat to the population of wild salmon living in the rivers in the area. It would stop them from entering the oceans, thus further reducing the food supply for orcas and other marine life who need those fish to survive.

           We might not have pulled out of the Paris Agreement, but we are not set to meet any of our environmental goals for 2030. It even appears that we could still be heading in the wrong direction. We might be considered the most "reputable" country in the world, but we have a long way to go before we should be comfortable holding that weight on our shoulders - when we can declare with pride that we are doing what we can to live up to our stereotype as a “nice” country.

Emma Eslake is 20 years old and going into her fourth year at the University of Victoria, working towards an Anthropology degree. She grew up in Pemberton, a small town in B.C., with three other siblings on an alpaca farm. She is a proud feminist with a passion for writing and a love of learning, especially about human and animal rights and environmental issues.