Species more at risk under PCs

Michael Johansen
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Instead of taking more than seven months so far to come up with a new core mandate for the Department of Environment and Conservation, maybe the minister (Tom Hedderson, that is) should have spent the time fulfilling the department’s old core mandate — a mandate most of his predecessors seem to have happily ignored.

If Hedderson had realized that any mandate — old or new — would naturally require the department to abide by legislation passed in the House of Assembly, he might not have been left holding the bag for four former ministers. If he had jumped on his responsibilities before being pushed into them, he would not have found himself trying, but failing to explain why no environment minister since Tom Osborne bothered to appoint anyone to the Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Advisory Council (WERAC), as required by law.

When questioned on the matter, Hedderson seemed confused. He claimed that WERAC has only been officially defunct for about a year — not five, as is the case. He also claimed the council seats are only vacant because of the core mandate review he apparently instigated shortly after coming into office, although he didn’t explain why.

He offered no reason why four former ministers in a row (Clyde Jackman, Charlene Johnson, Ross Wiseman and Terry French) had likewise disregarded their obligations under the Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Act of 1980. Were they all also conducting mandate reviews that similarly disrupted the normal functioning of the Environment Department?

   That could be. It would also explain why most Progressive Conservative environment ministers have been violating at least one other piece of legislation: the Endangered Species Act of 2001.

Under that act, the minister has two simple tasks: first he or she appoints up to nine members to a Species Status Advisory Committee (SSAC) and then, after the committee studies which species are at risk in the province, he or she passes their recommendations to the government and ensures there’s a response within 90 days.

Easy tasks, perhaps, but not easy enough for PC environment ministers. They have been appointing SSAC members but they’ve failed miserably to get the necessary responses from the government. According to SSAC’s 2010-2011 annual report, response was as much as five years overdue on 16 different recommendations concerning various endangered, threatened and vulnerable species, including the rock-dwelling sedge and Lindley’s aster.

Since Osborne oversaw the designation of a few species back in the early 2000s, only one minister has secured any response to any recommendation. Mackenzie’s sweet vetch, the rattlesnakeroot and the northern bog aster were all declared endangered under Johnson — almost four years overdue.

“I’m in a position right now where I am turning my attention to what loose ends are around my department,” Hedderson told a reporter with The Western Star. The minister meant the neglected WERAC appointments, but after having endured so many lacklustre leaders, Environment and Conservation probably has many more loose ends for Hedderson to tackle while he redefines the department’s mandate. WERAC, the overdue SSAC recommendations and the lack of effort to create the promised Eagle River Waterway Park are only three examples of how the department is unravelling.

When interviewed, Hedderson was quite vague about his future mandate, but one hopes it will still be about conserving resources and protecting the environment. Unfortunately, as indicated by both the minister’s and the department’s record, chances are slim environmentalists and conservationists will be happy.

Since Hedderson became environment minister he seems to have done little except declare the Muskrat Falls transmission line to be risk-free and release a climate change report that inaccurately describes the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project as being environmentally friendly, while unloading most of the responsibility for battling climate change onto the backs of ordinary citizens.

With that in mind, perhaps Hedderson’s mandate will be simple to predict: to facilitate industrial development by minimizing environmental oversight. The future might be Hedderson’s new Office of Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Emission Trading — a new body that is not bound by any of the legislation that guides the official department. Possibly the core mandate will require the abolishment of the department altogether — after all, then Hedderson won’t need to follow any inconvenient laws.


Michael Johansen is a writer

living in Labrador.

Organizations: Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Advisory Council, Species Status Advisory Committee, Department of Environment and Conservation Environment Department Office of Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Emission Trading

Geographic location: Western Star, Eagle River, Waterway Park Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Ben Turpin
    June 30, 2013 - 21:06

    If not Clyde Jackman, Charlene Johnson, Ross Wiseman, Terry French or Tom Hedderson we would have some other unfortunately compomised politico in this role, the booby prize of the provincial cabinet. Expected royalties for Newfoundland and expected jobs, rather than any of the major environmental, resource sustainment, cultural, public health or climate change impacts of the megaprojects are the only metrics that drive our musical chair ministers, because they are the only measure of success for so many of us who can't afford to give their awareness to rock-dwelling sedge, Lindley’s aster, caribou, salmon, fresh water or any of that old foolishness the scattered-brained bunch of bush-hippies in Labrador waste their time worrying about, when they could be contributing to the fantastic economy of a have province. Just trust the government to mitigate all the bad stuff... "Based on information that Nalcor has already provided, the Government is satisfied that the development of each component of the Project will result in significant financial benefits to the Government for the people of the Province, over and above revenues required to fund the mitigation measures and monitoring activities that the Project requires." Except this potential mitigation measure; "The Panel recommends that Nalcor demonstrate how it will assume financial responsibility for the potential future decommissioning of the Project to ensure that decommissioning does not become a burden to future generations. Response: The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador does not accept this recommendation. Hydro generation is a renewable energy source and these facilities when maintained and refurbished, continue to function for hundreds of years. Should the operator of the generating plant at the time require refurbishment or remediation of the plant then it will be done in accordance with the laws of general application at that time." Dams are forever royalties jobs wildlife are fleeting like the run of a wonderful grand river. The environment can conserve itself, for all I care, so grab that silver shovel and give'er!

  • Douglas Ballam
    June 29, 2013 - 16:30

    Well said. I believe that there are dark days ahead for the Department of Environment and Conservation. The PC government has effectively shelved the protected areas program in the Province - only one tiny protected area in ten years. I believe this is the worst record in the world. Even Afganistan has protected more area during the same period. As we saw with the recent budget, DEC had the highest percentage of cuts of any Department (Natural Resources had the lowest). The attack on our environmental safeguards has begun.

  • Virginia Waters
    June 29, 2013 - 12:49

    Mr. Johansen no doubt wrote his column before the warning from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency that Muskrat Falls and its transmission line further threatens the Red Wine caribou herd in Labrador. Not that it matters much - the warning that is - since it's clear the Dunderdale government is prepared to sacrifice much more than a few hundred head of caribou to position NALCOR as a government unto itself. NALCOR is the closest thing we have to a Senate in this province - a place where party bagmen, worn out bureaucrats and washed-up politicians can come to rest.