Browsing the archives for the Isolation tag.

MNR Proposal Abdicates Responsibility for SAR

Green Reality, South March Highlands

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR)’s current regime for managing approvals for permits affecting Species-At-Risk (SAR) is already flawed and the proposed changes described in the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry (EBBR 011-7696). make the situation worse – not better.

The current regime is based on providing a process for approving an activity that might harm SAR, or SAR habitat, that is based on an emphasis that mitigates impacts.

  • This is based on a false presumption that mitigation is always possible.
  • Most permit applications are granted if the mitigation for the SAR in question is relocated to a different ecosystem (i.e. moved, transplanted, or seeds replanted).

The existing Approvals process completely ignores the ecosystem implications of a permit by focusing too narrowly on the SAR in question and not on its relationship to the ecosystem it resides in and contributes to.

No vegetation or wildlife (or humans) exist in isolation of other living things.  Each has an impact on the other and within a natural ecosystem, these impacts are beneficial, balanced, and necessary for the whole – otherwise the ecosystem would be different.  Ecosystem change is usually caused by a dis-balance caused by an external event such as human activity, disease, fire, flood, or invasive species.

Instead of (a) requiring a burden of proof that mitigation is possible and (b) ensuring that broader ecosystem effects are included in this process, this proposal makes matters worse by continuing the MNR’s policy of ecosystem piecemealing via regulation.

The breadth of exemptions in the proposal is unreasonably broad because it includes all already approved or planned activities that might damage habitat.

  1. Encompassing all activities is unreasonable in scope.
  2. The proposal does not take into account the fact that approvals (such as a PTTW or CoA) have been granted in the past by agencies without regard to impact on SAR.  These agencies granted their approvals under the expectation that the MNR would fulfill any SAR-related approvals. If the MNR abdicates responsibility, then there is no consideration for SAR under any prior approval granted by any provincial ministry.
  3. The definition is so vague as to allow virtually any activity to quality – for example proposed plans of subdivision approval that have not yet been approved under the Planning Act.  This would remove what little protection exists for all 22 SAR documented in the South March Highlands.

The MNR’s rationale for grandfathering so many activities & exemptions is so dubious as to completely lack credibility.  How will the grandfathering and creation of so many exempt activities that damage habitat contribute to the overall benefit of SAR?

While it is apparent that the MNR seeks to shrink its job in the face of insufficient funding by McGuinty, the creation of so many exemptions will create an unsustainable workload for the MNR to manage the enforcement of compliance with.  Any alleged violation would require considerably further substantiation and validation of prior approvals by other agencies.  In my view, not performing such validation would constitute environmental negligence on the part of the MNR.

The proposed exemptions would also create two classes of SAR (existing and new) which has no reasonable basis in the Crown’s primary obligation to protect all SAR.  This also creates a legal liability for the province in view of recent Federal Court ruling on the fiduciary obligation of the Crown to provide such protection.  Protection of critical habitat is a duty – not a government discretion.

The Federal Court ruling sets a precedent that all levels of government must follow.  In Ontario, this duty is also enshrined in the Environmental Bill of Rights.

The proposed changes amount to abdication, not modernization, and should be opposed.   The Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands, Carolinian Canada CoalitionOntario Nature, and the David Suzuki Foundation have already expressed their opposition to this.

If you also oppose this, please make an individual posting to the EBBR.  Type in the 011-7696 Registry Number in the search box.  Search for and select the proposed change to bring up a description of it.  From there it takes less than 5 minutes to click on the Submit Comment button on the right side of the screen and to fill out the form or to cut and paste your comment.

Feel free to use any or all of the above via cut-and-paste if you wish.

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No Bottom Line for the South March Highlands

Legislative Gaps, South March Highlands

The City of Ottawa is slowly moving towards a sustainability mindset. According to its Director for Community Sustainability, the City is considering wider application of so-called “Triple Bottom Line” decision-making.

Sustainability

Classical decision-making in the previous century viewed the economy in isolation of the rest of society and in a context that ignored the environment. As illustrated below, interrelationships between these 3 dimensions were rarely considered.  Limited consideration was given to overlaps between 2 of these dimensions and even more rare was a sustainability mindset in which all 3 were included.

Sustainability thinking is based on traditional North American Indian philosophy that situates the person within the environment and views the ecosystem around the person as a great circle encompassing both animal life as well as the different communities of man.  This philosophy is traditionally symbolized by a Medicine Wheel as illustrated below.

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TBL

The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) is a term coined by John Elkington in his 1998 book Cannibals with Forks: the Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. TBL is a concept that similarly situates economic decision making within a societal context, which in turn is situated within an environmental context.

A sustainable mindset acknowledges that our society exists within the environment and not independent from it. Similarly, our business decisions exist within the society that defines the economics for them.

Consequently we need to consider intangible value as well as tangible value in making sustainable decisions.  This is illustrated below:

Considering the intangible helps avoid the trap of McNamara’s Fallacy, however, it is still possible for businesses and governments to fall into the fallacy by relying only on measurable indicators when performing a TBL analysis.

An example of falling into the trap can be seen in the Australian Government’s TBL analysis of 135 sectors of the Australian economy.  Notice the reliance of only measurable indicators when assessing intangible factors — a classic symptom of falling prey to McNamara’s Fallacy.

Ottawa’s 4BL

With the caveat to be wary of McNamara’s Fallacy, TBL is certainly a step in the right direction towards sustainable decision-making.

Curiously the use of TBL in a municipal setting involves consideration of 4 (not 3) dimensions (4BL):

  1. Economic
  2. Environmental
  3. Social
  4. Cultural

The addition of a cultural dimension extends the influence of social factors.  The rationale for this is tenuous and appears to have originated in New Zealand.  In Canada, the concept seems to be gaining favour among various municipalities, including Ottawa.

According to the authors of the 4BL model, it was attractive to incorporate the 4 directions of the traditional medicine wheel as an aspect of their sustainability framework.  Evidently, there is much to be learned about sustainability from First Nations – even when it comes to creating a model for thinking about it in a holistic way.

Unfortunately, in the 4BL case this has been done in a way that hi-jacks traditional values and re-casts them in a way that inserts “money” at the expense of wildlife.  This recurring type of hi-jacking and revision of native symbols and philosophy is one of the causes of cultural genocide – and in this case is being done in the name of promoting culture!

Rather than re-invent a tried-and-true concept that has served First Nations well for thousands of years, perhaps it would have been better to centre the concept entirely on traditional concepts of stewardship and respect for Mother Earth.

As an example, a direct application of traditional values by the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation results in a rather sensible Principles of Development.

NBL for SMH

Unfortunately the City is not even close to applying TBL or 4BL criteria to the South March Highlands:

  • Neither Council or Staff took the opportunity to explore the economic benefits of green infrastructure and the Stewardship plan that was prepared as an alternative – even though it would have generated $25 M /annum in economic benefits to the city;
  • Continued development in the SMH is an environmental disaster that no one denies – yet no one at city hall does anything to prevent. Compounded by the continued wilful blindness to environmental problems caused by SWM piecemealing, water diversion, fragmentation of habitat, and extirpation of 20 species-at-risk.
  • At a social level, every community association in Ottawa endorsed protection for the SMH – yet the infrastructure staff plows forward in the face of opposition from 15,000 people.
  • The complete disrespect for the cultural heritage of first nations in the SMH is shameful. The refusal to accommodate even a reasonable request for an unbiased archaeological study is indefensible and a violation of the Canadian constitution.

Clearly there is no bottom line thinking (NBL) in the City at all when it comes to the South March Highlands.

Although Ottawa is starting to move in the right direction with sustainability thinking, it will take much more than the creation of a quad-focal “lens” and the self-congratulation that will no doubt accompany the City’s self-assessment process to implement a sustainability mindset in Ottawa.

Growing Gaps

Completely missing from the City’s implementation approach is ensuring that there is an opportunity for public participation in ALL key decisions affecting Environment, Social, and Economic dimensions.

Instead of closing this gap, the lack of acceptance of public review as an integral part of sustainable decision-making appears to be growing.  Some recent examples of a growing gap include:

  • Refusal by the City to make public review a part of any future lifting of holding conditions for lands formerly zoned as environmentally significant in the SMH;
  • Failure by City staff to bring final EAs and EA Addendum to City committees for public review and Council approval prior to issuing of Notices of Completion.  This has occurred recently for Kanata West and for the Glen Cairn Flood Investigation.
  • Issuing key technical documents less than 3 days prior to a City committee vote on the subject so as to curtail any opportunity for public review.  This occurred recently on the decision to allow a municipal drain to be constructed in the provincially significant Poole Creek Wetlands in Stittsville.

Talk and intentions are cheap and meaningless without changing how the City operates.  Not only is the current non-sustainable mindset entrenched, it appears to be  incorrigible.

As a case in point, the infrastructure approvals staff actually declared that they considered it necessary to raze Beaver Pond Forest in Kanata, just so that they could understand where the watershed boundary was!  Evidently it was not possible for them to see the watershed for the trees.

Changing how the City operates will require deep changes to management within the infrastructure approvals division.   Otherwise using the words sustainability and development in the same sentence in Ottawa will continue to be an oxymoron.

Time to walk the talk by doing the right thing!

So far Mayor Watson has done nothing to improve the situation and in fact has made matters worse by not promoting public participation as a fundamental pre-condition for sustainable development in Ottawa.

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