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On June 26, 2014, the Harper Government “celebrated” the launch of the National Conservation Plan. The Plan would invest $252 million over five years in “securing ecologically sensitive lands,” “supporting conservation efforts,” wetlands restoration, and “to encourage Canadians to connect with nature close to home through protected areas and green spaces located in or near urban areas.”

According to the Prime Minister, the NCP will work towards Canada’s biodiversity goals, “that is, protecting 17 per cent of our land and inland waters, and 10 percent of our marine and coastal areas.” It is a worthy goal, although it’s not likely to get very far on $50 million a year, especially with Parks Canada’s own budget being slashed unmercifully.

NCP was a commitment made in the 2013 Speech from the Throne. Interestingly, in 2013, Canada ranked dead last when it comes to protecting the environment by the Washington-based Center for Global Development. The rankings assess 27 wealthy nations annually on their commitment to seven areas that impact the world’s poor.

A senior fellow at the Center who prepared the index said the environment category has become one of the “bright spots” in the survey. “Environment is the one part of our index that has really seen improvement and Canada has been the only country that’s fallen,” he said. “My expectation would have been that Canada is environmentally friendly, Canadians all seem to take the environment seriously.” The major reasons for Canada’s rank, he said, were pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol and having one of the highest levels of greenhouse gas production per capita. The Globe and Mail reported last month that marine areas are better protected by China than Canada.

Environmental groups, like the Green Budget Coalition, have critiqued Harper’s National Conservation Plan in great detail. For example, all the money earmarked to protect sensitive habitats is pledged to the Nature Conservancy, which deals solely in private lands. Private lands only made up 10 percent of the Canadian landscape and are centered around urban areas in southern Canada.

At a news conference in May, Harper said the true goal of the plan is to “foster an appreciation of nature in all Canadians.” And that, “An ethic of true stewardship cannot be imposed by regulation, it is of the heart.”

We are all for governments earmarking significant funds for conservation efforts and for creating more green space in urban areas, but given Canada’s dismal 2013 rankings by the Center for Global Development on environmental protection, one has to wonder if the plan isn’t at least partially directed towards fixing Canada’s sagging reputation. Maybe regulations cannot impose an ethic of stewardship, but regulations can pull Canada out of the embarrassing rank of dead last when it comes to protecting the environment.  

If Canadians truly appreciate nature, and our international reputation is (or at least has been) that we do, then why are we letting our elected leaders fall behind the rest of the world when it comes to environmental protection?

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