Environmental health is important for the economy over the long term

After a summertime cabinet shuffle and then proroguing parliament, the reconfiguration of cabinet committees didn’t get much news coverage – which is probably just what the government was hoping for.   This week the Conservative government took some action on the environment but it isn’t likely the kind of action most people would like to see.   

It is no mistake that the government has removed the Environment Minister from the Cabinet Committee on Economic Prosperity and Sustainable Growth and also cut the words “sustainable growth” from the committee’s title.   That is in keeping with the actions and priorities of this government.  But without a focus on sustainability we are in danger of pursuing economic policies that offer short lived benefits and come with longer term environmental price tags.

It’s hard to imagine a clearer signal that the Conservatives do not believe economic prosperity needs sustainability.  It is a point of view that ignores the fact that most Canadians do not think about these items in isolation from each other or within four year (electoral cycle) time frames that government’s prefer. 

Ultimately, this is a signal that business as usual has now been formalized.  The Conservatives have continually bristled at any element of a polluter pays regime when it comes to resource development.  Now, without the Environment Minister taking part in discussions about the direction the government can try to move the economy in, there won’t be a chance of environmental advocacy on that front.

If we cannot see fit to protect our environment by mitigating the effects of development while the projects are running, there is little chance that the work will be done later.  It amounts to a legacy of environmental degradation without any financial assistance aimed at repairing the damage.  It doesn’t strike me as an especially thoughtful way to treat future generations.

Canadians need real leadership and concrete environmental policies to build the green economy of the future.   We are not served by an unimaginative government who seem to be more concerned with the return on investment than they are about the well-being of the people who will inherit Canada.

We need a government that can see beyond a four-year mandate. A government that believes the environment and the economy can and must work together.   We shouldn’t have to rig our environmental regulations and assessment processes to favour polluting industries.  That is a step back in time. 

What is needed is forward thinking policies that are backed up with incentives that make it appealing for polluters to clean up their act.  Surely that is more appealing than unsustainable environmental policies that damage the long-term health of our ecosystem and the long-term health of our economy as well.