THE OMINOUS BUDGET BILL and Ducks Unlimited

The failure of Environmental Education for a Sustainable Future

Our Prime Sinister of His Canada is about to push the Ominous Budget Bill C-38 through the House of Commons, and the Senate, because he can and he wants to – it is as simple as that. He doesn't need to listen, to negotiate, or to bargain. He didn't do it in committee, and he's not going to do it on TV during question period.  He will look cool, calm, and aloof, and if he needs a rebuttal, John Baird, or another pitbull lackey will deliver biting remarks to the Opposition. Remember, this is the same government that was defeated prior to the last election for contempt of Parliament. 

But after all those republican Robocalls, came a majority government and a certainty that Canada was open for business.The government's attitude seemed to change after President Obama put the brakes on the Keystone Pipeline because of the strength of the environmental lobby, and Stephen Harper reaiized he might lose his Alberta firewall. Suddenly we were beseiged with government ads warning against foreign funded environmental organizations trying to stop Canada's economic prosperity. Ethical Oil ads appeared, as if it were ethical to send oil to China, and the push for the Northern Gateway Pipeline was underway. How to bypass all those time-consuming environmental audits, especially the fisheries concerns of the Kitimat community  – change the laws. The solution: an omnibus budget bill, stacked with enough clauses (753) and modifications or changes to existing Acts (69) to choke a salmon. (Source: Globe&Mail, Front Page: 12/06/12)

This is a slam dunk, a done deal, a "you'll never recognize Canada when I'm through with it" moment. For me, as a global, environmental and outdoor educator, it is an absolute proof of the failure of our education system. We began alerting children to the issues facing the twenty-first century in 1970. Some of the best programs came out of Alberta's Outdoor and Environmental Education Team, so this is not an eastern tree hugger's commentary.

We get all cute and cuddly in elementary school, have a tiny percentage of students take high school credit courses in environmental studies and global education (if still offered), and offer a minor number of significant courses at Universities and Colleges.  In Ontario, Mike Harris and Guy Giorno snuffed out most of those courses and cleverly had the interdisciplinary environmental studies course chopped from the College of Teachers options. "It is not our vocation to nurture ciritical thinkers; it is our job to train productive consumers." If you don't have teachers experienced in interdisciplinary environmental studies, you won't have students learning about what we are doing to their environment and how to respond positively.

So, here we have anyone opposed to this budget bill listed as government enemy number one – every opposition party, every foreign funded environmental terrorist organization from the World Wildlife Fund to the Nature Conservancy of Canada to the fisheries scientists who violated their gag order by speaking out against this omnibus budget bill and its impact on environmental security.  This hypocrisy on top of the fact that the Conservative Reform Alliance Party did not campaign on any of these issues in the last election – called because they were found in contempt of parliament – changes to environmental assessments, introducing retroactive Cabinet veto power over environmental assessments, changes to the OAS, changes to EI, the abolishment of the Roundtable on Economy and Environment, the elimination of significant federal service positions in Parks Canada, and the very subtle changes to The Fisheries Act. 

Ah, The Fisheries Act, and despite the almost universal condemnation of the changes, the government proudly trumpeted that it had the support of a "conservation" organization – the only one at the table with the government was Ducks Unlimited Canada. Now, I have teased DUC on many occasions that they live to serve duck hunters, now known in DUC lingo as "Heritage Waterfowlers". After all, it's no fun to be a duck hunter if there are no ducks to hunt. Which is why DUC is the fifth largest foreign funded organization in Canada – environmental organizations didn't even make the Top Ten of foreign funded groups.

On the other hand, some of the best habitat restoration, waterfowl scientists, and education staff in Canada work for DUC. So, I sensed a conundrum. A good friend reminded me that is easy to sing with the choir who is opposing the government. What about the duck that sits down with the industrialist and tries to suggest a consensus as if the planet really mattered. Would it be better in the long run for DUC to be at the negotiations table, or was the government using them as a "greenwash" poster child?

 

Fortunately, after I had received a form letter from CEO Jamie Fortune explaining the DUC position, DUC was open enough to connect me with a wonderful representative in Ottawa.  Andrea Barnett explained that unlike many other environmental organizations like the Sierra club and WWF, who often  play environmental advocacy roles, or NCC, which primarily conserves habitat by buying land and through conservation easements , DUC is actively involved in construction on project sites to improve habitat for fish and wildlife – dams, beaver bafflers, burms, feed-ins from water courses that often trigger approval under the Fisheries Act – construction projects on the lands involved that can take many years of permit approval before DUC can do anything. The proposed changes to the Fisheries Act would make it much easier for DUC to carry out its rehabilitation and protection projects much more quickly. DUC also insists on upholding strong conservation principles and positive outcomes for fish and their habitats and has indicated that their support for this regulatory change will be determined by the outcomes of the regulatory discussion. A clear answer that will be proven in the upcoming years..

So as with any environmental issue, no one solution to a complex situation. For an oil exec, the Bill is a go. For a conservation organization seeking faster approval for restoration/enhancement projects, the strategic direction of the fisheries amendments in the Bill are positive. But for all those living on smaller rivers not considered to be "in the economic interest of the country" you are fresh out of luck. And for the First Nations seeking respectful dialogue on pipelines crossing their lands, there's a new sheriff in town, and for those underfunded environmental organizations interfering with Canada's economic security, you are extinct.

Our Canadian environmental education curriculum has failed spectacularly – otherwise there would be tens of thousands of environmentally literate Canadian citizens surrounding the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa on Wednesday. Don't blame Ducks Unlimited for constructive dialogue to support their mandate. As Pogo noted, to paraphrase the cartoon, "We have discovered the enemy, and it is us, the politically apathetic and uninformed."

When this Bill passes this week, Canada will never be the same. 

Skid Crease, Caledon