It feels just a little bit brighter.
The elections results of October 19th have brought to an end a period of great darkness for civil society. If that sounds melodramatic, I can tell you from direct experience it is not. Deemed enemies of the state, attacked, tied up in administrative burdens so we could be less effective and having all doors to collaboration with our federal government closed – a change in government means a time of hope that we can return to doing what we do best – hold governments to account and build better and healthier communities – together. We are not naïve about the path ahead – we’ve been here before – but we can now get back to the business at hand, the one you support us to do and that is an exciting and hopeful feeling.
In the past, when we developed our strategies for campaigns, they would always include ways we would engage and pressure our federal government. With so many of our issues being in the realm of federal jurisdiction, it was a key part of our strategies. That work would include engaging Members of Parliament locally as well as key government decision-makers in Ottawa. We developed relationships within government and across party lines, all in an effort to create change on issues that impacted the Strait of Georgia. It would also include working with you to put pressure on governments to take action to better protect our local waters.
However, over the last 10 years, that part of our work slowly diminished to the point that in the last 4 years, we rarely ever reached out to government MPs. The reason was no one was listening. With environmental protection deemed an impediment to economic growth, we spent more time defending ourselves from attacks from our government not only on the issues we worked on but in how we ran our organization and did our work. During these very dark times, we found strength in provincial and local efforts to protect our waters, always aware that an important part of the conversation could not be undertaken, and in the unwavering backing of supporters like you.
With a new government settling into Ottawa, one which does not see civil society as the enemy and which has a more open view towards issues related to a healthy environment and communities, we find ourselves seeing opportunity where for many years none existed.
During the election, the new government put forward their “Protecting Our Oceans” promise. Here is what they said they will do:
- Meet Canada’s international commitments by increasing the amount of our protected marine and coastal areas from 1.3 percent to 5 percent by 2017, and 10 percent by 2020;
- Reinstate the $40 million cut from the federal government’s ocean science and monitoring programs, and restore scientific capabilities at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans;
- Re-establish thorough environmental assessments, review all amendments made by the previous government to the Fisheries Act and other legislative changes, and incorporate modern safeguards to protect our ocean and freshwater fish habitats;
- Work with provinces, Indigenous Peoples, and other stakeholders, to effectively co-manage our oceans; and
- Formalize the moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on British Columbia’s North Coast – including the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait, and Queen Charlotte Sound – and ensure that ecologically sensitive areas and local economies are protected from the devastating impacts of a spill.
Working with a government in areas where we agree, encouraging – even demanding – change where we don’t, is something we do very well at GSA and in the last 10 years, we have focused those efforts on the province and local governments where conversations were possible, and it’s something we will continue to do. But, today, we are looking forward to working muscles that have not been used in far too long, to bring leadership on climate change, environmental protection and economic development which has sustainability as a core value back to our federal landscape. Here is what we are asking of our new government:
- Gather marine conservation groups together to talk about how we will meet the government commitment to increase marine protected areas to 5 percent by 2017 and 10 percent by 2020, starting with the establishment of the National Marine Conservation Area in the Southern Georgia Strait;
- Implement a comprehensive program to deal with the problem of derelict vessels on our coast;
- Immediately reinstate the $40 million cut from the federal government’s ocean science and monitoring programs, and restore the scientific capabilities of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans;
- Bring back the Fisheries Act in its pre-gutting form;
- Re-open the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station immediately;
- Overhaul the fatally flawed National Energy Board pipeline review process, and send Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain proposal back to the drawing board;
- Release the southern resident orca action plan; and
- Increase funding to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada to allow other at risk species to receive protection through the effective implementation of the Species at Risk Act;
- Stop the unwarranted and expensive auditing of environmental charities and commit to a review of the Charities Act.
We know the path will not be easy, but having hope that conversation and collaboration is possible is a wonderful feeling, and we will focus our time and energy in ensuring that the new government hears how you want to protect our local waters, wildlife and communities from ill-thought out projects. This will be our priority – and we will hold the government’s feet to the fire because we want a better future for our region. Your support will be needed again as we invest in new ways of taking action – we hope you’ll be part of our team as we go forward.
Welcome to a new day.