Common Ground

Dr. Brian L. Horejsi is a wildlife and forest ecologist from Penticton.

Environmental citizenship never cultured

It is not an unreasonable extension of reasoning to argue that the political and social tension wracking Canada today can be traced to orchestrated environmental disarray and a deliberate agenda, now decades in the making, to make sure citizens and scientific evidence and reasoning are kept separate from decision makers and decision making.

This designed divorce of people from the national environmental and energy regulatory processes has bred anger, distrust and suspicion about who is getting more than their share, who is paying more than their share, and who is being left out.

The reality is, and I paraphrase from a 1997 legal review about civil service ministry/ agency decision making, that societies can, and I argue governments should (but will only if we force them to) actively engage in building citizenship.

The benefits are never ending; participation in ministry and agency (like the National Energy Board) decision making helps produce better citizens by inspiring a sense of civic responsibility.

Participation not only makes for better informed citizens, it also helps develop citizenship, a precondition to (what should be) contemporary agency/ministry decision making.

Participation is important because it is an “affirmation of belonging.” It makes citizens feel as if they are a part of, and thus helps to encourage membership in, a political community.

Participation “educates individuals how to think publicly as citizens,” inducing us to listen to other people’s positions and, just as importantly, to justify our own.” and citizenship presupposes that one is able to participate in the decisions that affect oneself and one’s community”

This would not be, or lead to, some miraculous healing or coalescing of citizens — not after decades of gross mismanagement and not without time, but tell me, since when is it too late to turn back from a path wrongly taken?

The root cause of discord in Canada and within provinces — and there is widespread dissatisfaction with public resource (mis)management — take forest protection and the forest industry in B.C. as just one example — is successive government failure to elevate environmental management and protection to scientifically sound written standards with legal status.

Lack of federal leadership and absence of dedicated (and legal) effort to harmonize provincial environmental protection standards and practices, including legal mandates for citizen participation in decision making, has not only degraded landscapes and created a biodiversity (fish and wildlife, forests, and range) conservation crisis, it has corrupted democracy and unity, creating extreme and divisive expectations where far too many people think only of their own wallet.

Highly-fragmented and meddling approach to economic stimulation in the total absence of high and common environmental protection standards has led to special interests — like oil and gas in Alberta, the timber industry in B.C., and agriculture and livestock industries, along with industrial recreation businesses, across the west , demanding that their interests be granted privilege above the common good and way above landscape and ecosystem viability.

All citizens, from all provinces, both nationally and within a province, playing by the same rules, would set a standard that would “cut off at the knees” today’s commonly practice of sneaking through the back door to political and regulatory “friends” in order to get special privilege. 

Dr. Brian L. Horejsi is a wildlife and forest ecologist from Penticton.