Every now and then, perhaps unwittingly, a government gives you an idea of the lens through which they view our world.
And that’s maybe the best way to look at the comments by Environment Minister Tom Hedderson reported in this paper Thursday.
Hedderson was responding in The Telegram to questions about why the provincial government has turned down an offer from Parks Canada to do a preliminary study for establishing a marine conservation area off the southwest coast of Newfoundland.
Hedderson said the province doesn’t need the study, even though it’s clear the area would be a perfect candidate for such a conservation space.
The thing is, the province doesn’t want a conservation area. No, they are more interested in oil and gas prospects in the area, and potential aquaculture sites.
“Once we give it over to the feds, it’s like any of the parks. You’ve given it over to them, and they then have total control over that piece of geography,” Hedderson said.
Why even bother with the study, Hedderson suggests, if the provincial government doesn’t want the conservation area anyway?
What’s more interesting is that there isn’t even work proposed for the area yet. Hedderson, you could say, is putting hypothetical business ahead of protecting the environment.
“Like any other part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, we certainly encourage business to set up in various areas, and we’re constantly indicating that there’s lots of opportunity,” he said. “And there’s lots of opportunity in that particular area, and hopefully somewhere along the way there will be some exploration done that could open up that situation.”
When an environment minister makes such a clear plea for the commercialization of resources, it’s worth thinking about how far that mindset actually goes within the government.
After all, our provincial government is already an equity partner in oil and gas developments, and is overseeing a hydroelectric megaproject that will have one of the largest environmental footprints ever contemplated in this province — and at the same time, it is the regulator charged with overseeing its own developments and, in some cases, the actions of its own private business partners.
If the provincial government’s view is that the first order of business is harvesting resources, perhaps we all have to be more involved in making sure that all sides of the argument are aired and that clear voices are heard to counterbalance what sounds like a pretty one-sided rationale.
To be clear: there’s nothing implicitly wrong with a government choosing development over anything else — as voters, we have a pretty strong record of supporting governments that offer us fiscal treats, regardless of the effects of those decisions on future generations.
What’s essential is that voters know clearly and precisely what it is that a government feels is most important, so voters know exactly what they are voting for.
For voters who might feel long-term stewardship is more important than satisfying the full and immediate needs of particular businesses, Minister Hedderson has supplied some crucial information.
The fact that he is the environment minister, charged first and foremost with protecting the province’s natural heritage, makes those optics all the more clear.