Local governments in Kent County are being asked to declare their support for meaningful environmental protection that both provincial and federal governments have so far refused to provide.
“We’ve learned from both the shale gas and glyphosate spraying issues that there is no real environmental protection for the air, land, and water we depend on for life itself,” says Mike McKinley, an engineering technologist from St. Louis-de-Kent.
As a member of the environmental watchdog group Notre Environnement Notre Choix / Our Environment Our Choice, McKinley was a leading figure in the struggle by local residents to stop shale gas development in Kent County.
“The environmental protections supposedly in place in New Brunswick were ‘clawed back’ by the Alward Conservative government during its attempt to force shale gas development on us,” he says. Of particular concern to McKinley was the Conservatives’ free and easy granting of “variances” from environmental protection regulations. These “variances” allowed shale gas companies unfettered access to the province’s most environmentally sensitive areas during the 2010-2014 years.
McKinley is similarly critical of the Gallant Liberal government, elected in October 2014, for its cavalier disregard of World Health Organization (WHO) warnings about glyphosates. Despite glyphosate being identified earlier this year by the WHO as a likely cancer-causing agent that damages DNA and disrupts hormones, and a 2012 Conservation Council of New Brunswick study identifying ‘cancer hot spots’ in the province, the Gallant Liberals continue to allow NB Energy to indiscriminately spray glyphosates over large areas of the provincial forests.
Neither Conservative nor Liberal governments have ever been hesitant about sweeping aside environmental protections that proved inconvenient for the corporate sector. Given that reality, McKinley is now asking municipal governments in New Brunswick to give voice to their constituents’ repeatedly-expressed desire for meaningful action to protect the province’s land, air and water both now and for future generations.
At a meeting in Richibucto, October 22nd, McKinley formally requested the 17 local governments in Kent County comprising the Zone 6 Regional Service Commission (RSC) to declare their support for an Environmental Bill of Rights. He’d like to see the Zone 6 RSC formally support the Blue Dot Program launched by the David Suzuki Foundation last year.
The Blue Dot Program seeks to enshrine in an Environmental Bill of Rights the right of all Canadians to drink clean water, breathe fresh air, and eat healthy food. In Atlantic Canada, Yarmouth, St. John’s, Charlottetown, Antigonish and Halifax have passed declarations in support of the Blue Dot Program.
Across Canada, more than 90 municipal governments have already passed declarations supporting the right of people to fresh air, clean water, safe food, and a real say in the decisions that affect their health and well-being. To date, more than 65,000 Canadians have also joined the movement.
In 2013, local government leaders in Kent County, by a vote of 15-1, formally asked the Alward government to place a moratorium on shale gas development. That request was ignored by the Conservative government then in power, as were the mounting body of scientific studies documenting the health and environmental damage shale gas development causes, and the massive opposition to shale gas those studies spawned in New Brunswick.
St. Louis-de-Kent Mayor Danielle Dugas and Harcourt Local Service District (LSD) chairperson Tina Beers support McKinley’s request that the Zone 6 RSC endorse an Environmental Bill of Rights.
“We’re not getting the environmental protection we need or want from senior levels of government,” Mayor Dugas says. “The Zone 6 RSC represents 33,000 people, and I’m hoping we’ll make a declaration of support for an Environmental Bill of Rights.”
“The Blue Dot Program is a good idea, and it’s important to do it,” she says, adding that the Zone 6 RSC will likely seek more information on the issue. “Municipal governments are closer to the people than either federal or provincial governments, so it’s important that we be both the voice of, and a voice for, the people we represent.”
Like McKinley, Dugas was also very disappointed by the Gallant government’s decision to ignore the World Heath Organization’s warning about the cancer-causing dangers of glyphosates. She says the Province of New Brunswick should follow the ‘Precautionary Principal’ that puts public health ahead of corporate convenience.
Similarly, Harcourt LSD chair Tina Beers says senior levels of government are “definitely not” providing needed environmental legislation, and notes “there’s nothing in place to protect our fresh water.”
“Municipal governments can also pass local by-laws, but Local Service Districts don’t even have that power,” Beers says. “What we are seeing is decisions make for us but not by us.”
She says the ideal solution would be for governments to support the development of sustainable economies based on clean, renewable energy sources. She adds, “It’s a mystery to me why senior governments are refusing to shift their priorities,” given the realities of the climate change crisis.
An Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) as envisaged by McKinley and the Suzuki Foundation would give legal priority in matters concerning the environment to transparency of the process, full access to information, public participation in decision making, accountability of decision-makers and actual enforcement of environmental legislation.
“An EBR establishes people’s right to a healthy environment, and imposes a duty on governments to protect the environment,” McKinley says. “That means certain public goods, like air and water, waterways, lands and wetlands, are held by the government in trust for the benefit of all people, including future generations.”
“It makes those goals possible by providing clear guidelines for government, industry and citizens when managing resources, considering economic development proposals, and protecting the health of communities,” he says. “It also empowers Canadians by making it possible for them to take legal action against violations of environmental protection legislation, where enforcement is lacking.”
“An EBR would lead to stronger environmental laws, better enforcement of existing laws and improved environmental performance.”
To date, more than 110 nations around the world have recognized their citizens’ right to live in a healthy environment, but not Canada. During it’s nine years in power from 2006-2014, the federal Conservative government of Stephen Harper all but embraced ‘junk science’ in it determination to ignore the realities of the climate change crisis, while blindly pursuing fossil fuel development regardless of the consequences.
“People need real access to environmental justice to protect themselves from reckless government or corporate decisions that pollute the land, air and water we all need to live,” McKinley ways. “Right now the only defense people have to protect public health and safety is to take very expensive legal action, and that effectively denies environmental justice to most of us.”
For example, New Brunswickers attempting to protect the environment and public health and safety from the well-documented threats posed by shale gas development were forced to raise $100,000 to go to court because the provincial government simply ignored their concerns. The Gallant Liberals, like the Alward Conservatives before them, has so far refused either to meet the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance in court or publicly release a single study showing shale gas development to be safe.
McKinley says the current situation “discriminates against most citizens because only corporations and the wealthy have the money to go to court.” He says people are fooled into thinking environmental legislation protects the environment but, in reality, without a fat bank account, there is no protection against pollution and the threats it poses to the environment and people’s health.
Tommy Douglas, the ‘father of medicare in Canada,’ was fond of saying “he who pays the piper call the tune.” Perhaps that explains why so many governments see protecting corporate interests as more important than protecting public health or the environment.
Dallas McQuarrie is a Kent County-based news writer for the NB Media Co-op.