Thursday, July 31, 2003 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

N.S. needs environmentally friendly government

By Elizabeth May

AFTER FOUR years as premier, one would have hoped John Hamm had a better grip on how decisions are made in this province. I believe him to be an honest man. Unless he was badly misquoted in the article "Group lauds NDP, raps Conservatives on environment" (July 22), then he truly does not have a clue.

In defence of his government's environmental record, he has suggested the issues are always dealt with through a fair environmental assessment process. In fact, there has been no environmental assessment process most of the time that the environment has been sacrificed due to Hamm-handed decisions.

The government's decisions on the quarry in Digby Neck, the shoreline permits in Cape Breton for seismic testing in our richest fishery, the destruction of Baltzer's Bog were all approved with no environmental assessment. For the cleanup of the Sydney tar ponds, the Hamm government has made it clear it opposes proper federal environmental assessment through a panel review. In fact, the most effective type of provincial environmental assessment is a Class 2 environmental review, which can be ordered at any time for any project by the minister of the environment. If there is a proper process, then this is it. But a governmental order for a Class 2 environmental review has not occurred once in the lifetime of the Hamm government.

He suggests that if environmentalists do not like the process, we should take our concerns to the courts. The coalition of environmental groups that gathered in Halifax recently, releasing grades for the environmental content of the major parties' platforms, can be permitted a hollow laugh at that suggestion. The residents of Northwest Cove and of St. Anns Bay sought relief through the courts to protect their livelihoods and quality of life from mega-aquaculture operations. The government has been forcing these projects on communities that do not want them.

The judiciary will be the first to tell Dr. Hamm that public policy issues are best not dealt with by the courts. Passing the buck to expensive litigation rather than fair and respectful community consultation is a slap in the face to citizens across the province who have legitimate concerns about the environmental impacts of these destructive projects. It was, after all, John Hamm who said in 1999, when first seeking to form a government, "Politicians and bureaucrats cannot make decisions for communities as effectively as the people who live in them."

Dr. Hamm claims that the contempt shown by his government to the environment is justified in the interests of protecting jobs. In reality, most of these ill-advised projects are both poor job creators and a threat to existing jobs. What earthly sense does it make to risk the jobs of over 25,000 people in the fishery and 5,000 more in tourism with seismic blasting that creates fewer than three jobs over a two-month period? Even if the seismic blasting leads to development of oil and gas, the government policy of shipping the gas for export to the U.S. virtually guarantees minimal local economic benefit, failing to offset the economic and environmental risk.

Even less does it make sense to open a devastating quarry in a fishing and tourism centre like Digby Neck, or to bring a sour gas plant to Shelburne, or a massive aquaculture operation (covering 1,400 acres) and threatening a healthy tourism and fishing community like St. Anns Bay.

The reality is that decisions to risk sustainable economic activity in the interests of gossamer-thin pipe dreams are made in purely political fashion. There is no environmental review. There is no "balancing" of jobs and the environment. There is, frankly, little evidence of any thought process at all. In my nearly 30 years of working to protect Nova Scotia's environment, I can honestly say that the Hamm government record on the environment is the worst I have ever seen.

Both the Liberal party and the New Democrats have put forward commitments to protect the environment that put them a country mile ahead of the current government. Do I trust either party to always protect the environment? Sadly, no. Compromises will be reached. Developments will be approved that we will oppose. But after four years of the Hamm government, this environmental review says it is time for a change.

Elizabeth May is the executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada.