Opinion Column

Have your voice heard: ROOT ISSUES

By Erich Jacoby-Hawkins

The House of Commons. Chris Wattie/REUTERS

The House of Commons. Chris Wattie/REUTERS

A key deadline for public participation has been pushed back to this Friday, meaning you, as a citizen or concerned organization, can still provide feedback and comment to the federal government.

 

You may recall the previous federal government under Stephen Harper pushed through major legislative changes, some in omnibus budget bills, gutting or eliminating key environmental legislation that had protected Canada’s natural wealth for decades (or in the case of navigable waters, over a century).

Laws governing energy projects, environmental assessments, fisheries, lakes, rivers, and streams were almost completely erased or transformed, all to speed major development and reduce the public’s ability to speak up against unwise or risky projects.

Just to be clear, I am certainly not against development.

Nevertheless, since major development can profoundly harm ecosystems or cultural traditions as well as provide valuable benefits, we need robust governance to ensure only warranted development takes place, or that harms are minimized or avoided to the best of our ability instead of simply falling by the wayside of expedience.

Proponents of major developments always have the ear of government ministries; Canada requires systems to enable affected groups or members of the public to make their case and be heard and considered in the approval process or resulting regulations.

Our new Liberal government ran on a platform of rolling back much of this harmful gutting of protections, but it appears the will to carry out this promise is flagging. While multiple consultations have been undertaken to get considered input and feedback from literally thousands of citizens and expert witnesses, the outcome has not yet been legislative proposals.

Instead, hundreds of pages of recommendations from the four major consultation reports, representing millions in spending, have been combined and watered down into a single 24-page report (17 pages of real text, when you subtract cover, blank pages, images, and sidebar quotes) which leaves out or contradicts many of the most important specific recommendations.

However, all is not lost. As I mentioned, the deadline for public comment on this timid report has been extended from the original Aug. 28 until Friday, so your views can still be heard.

With a strong response, this government, which has shown itself more influenced by public feedback than the previous, may up their game and do their job protecting and stewarding our great nation’s natural capital for us, as they promised.

To take part, go to www.Canada.ca/EnvironmentalReviews where you will find links to the discussion paper, the contributing reviews on energy review modernization, navigation protection, environmental regulatory process, and fisheries habitat protection, as well as the link to upload your own feedback.

But if you want a bit more background in layman’s terms, I recommend reading the householder available at ElizabethMayMP.ca in “Community Newsletters” under the publications tab. There you will find a balanced and informative overview of the issue, two full pages of the four-page newsletter.

Overall, this single newsletter, mailed to all the households of MP Elizabeth May’s riding, contains more useful information than all of the householders sent over a period of eight years by our previous MP Patrick Brown, combined.

You may be shocked to discover that an MP’s household mailer can actually contain more than a couple of misleading a sentences and a scary photo tied to an oversimplified “survey” designed to support Conservative talking points.

So take this chance to learn how an MP can actually inform and involve citizens in government, and to step forward and make your voice heard.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins serves on the boards of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.  



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