Canada’s environmental protection must keep pace with economic development – by John Ivison (National Post – February 6, 2013)

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If two weeks in China teaches you anything, it is the perils of growth-at-all-cost. Lack of environmental protection there has left much of the country facing what Internet users are calling “airpocalypse.”

The latest report by the environment commissioner does not suggest Canada is anywhere close to China’s level of ecological degradation, but Scott Vaughan said he is concerned environmental protection is failing to keep pace with economic development.

“It’s clear there is a natural resources boom … Maybe it’s time for a boom in terms of environmental protection to protect Canadians’ health and to protect the Canadian economy,” he said.

Specifically, he pointed to gaps in environmental safeguards such as the low level of inspections in major resource projects; continuing government tax incentives that support fossil fuel extraction; slow progress in establishing marine protection areas; and, a lack of co-ordination between East Coast petroleum boards and the federal government if they had to respond to a major oil spill. In that case, the Canadian Coast Guard has no mandate to respond to a major oil spill, he said.

Opposition parties seemed surprised to find out things are as bad as they’ve been saying, but they rebounded sufficiently to pepper the prime minister with questions in the House of Commons.

Tom Mulcair, the New Democratic Party leader, suggested the Conservatives have let big polluters off the hook and left the taxpayer to foot the bill. He was referring to the chapter in the report on financial assurances for environmental risk.

This pointed out Canada’s nuclear industry is liable for just $75-million in the event of an accident, which is minuscule compared to Germany, where liability for operators is $3-billion, and Japan, where liability is unlimited and operators must carry insurance of $1.5-billion. Similarly, offshore oil and gas liability is limited to $30-million to $40-million, compared to $249.8-million in Britain.

Stephen Harper replied the polluter pay principle remains at the centre of his responsible resource development agenda and more action will be taken in the future.

Legislation to increase liability to $650-million has been introduced in previous parliaments and Peter Kent, the environment minister, said work is under way to address the financial assurances issue.

Bob Rae, the interim Liberal leader, also pressed Mr. Harper on whether he agreed with Mr. Vaughan’s central conclusion — there are gaps between the pace of natural resource development and environmental protection.

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