Recap: Economy and Environment: Why protecting Canada’s environment makes business sense

Wed Mar 13, 2013 11:45 AM - Wed Mar 13, 2013 02:00 PM
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Canada's Minister of the Environment, Peter Kent, at The Vancouver Board of Trade.  
Canada's Minister of the Environment, Peter Kent, speaks to The Vancouver Board of Trade. Photo by Tyson Jerry.

The Honourable Peter Kent, Canada’s Minister of the Environment, addressed members of The Vancouver Board of Trade on March 13.

In his remarks, Kent outlined the Government of Canada's plans to strengthen environmental protection and economic prosperity for Canada and British Columbia — both today and for the future. 

Canada is a country rich in natural beauty and natural resources. As the second-largest country in the world, Canada is home to the third-largest supply of annual renewable fresh water in the world, 25 per cent of the world’s wetlands, 10 per cent of the world’s forests and more than 70,000 plant and animal species. Our environmental wealth is breathtaking and unparalleled.

Minister Kent's remarks to The Vancouver Board of Trade 

Thank you for invitation to speak with you today.

I have great respect for the Board of Trade as well as great personal fondness for Vancouver. I lived here as a young man and started my career as a journalist at CJOR, a radio station that broadcast from the basement of the old Grosvenor Hotel on Granville.

I had very little money at the time, so I rented a room in the garage of a house in the west end of the city. In fact, I was so broke that when the station’s entertainment reporter invited me to a party with a new all-girl group that was performing at The Cave, I declined—because I couldn’t afford to buy drinks for myself, let alone anyone else.
That girl group—also at the start of their careers—was called The Supremes.

I may have blown a chance to hang out with Diana Ross, but all these years later I still associate Vancouver with opportunity—something that has continued to shape the city’s vibrant business community and local economy.

I’m particularly pleased to be with you here at the Board of Trade, because you are the leaders of that community and economy.

As you know, Environment Canada is the federal department responsible for developing, implementing and enforcing national environmental regulations and standards. But you may be less familiar with the full extent of our determination to balance those environmental priorities with Canada’s economic agenda.

This government believes that the best way forward for Canada is to encourage investment and enterprise while, at the same time, holding it to the highest—and the most transparent—environmental standards in the world.

Let me give you some concrete examples of how we’ve worked toward achieving that end.

A couple of weeks ago I came upon a headline in the Report on Business that gave me a jolt of satisfaction. It read: “Certainty on greenhouse gas rules helping TransAlta.”

I was pleased because the story directly reflected the intended outcome of months of consultation about drafting the legislation we introduced last fall that sets a tough performance standard for coal-fired electricity generators starting in 2015. These regulations will result, in the long term, in the phase out of traditional use of coal to generate electricity in this country.

These new coal regulations are a key part of our Government’s sector-by-sector approach to meeting Canada’s greenhouse gas reduction target of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020—a target we’re now halfway to reaching.

As it often is when framing national environmental laws, the coal regulations were pretty tough slogging at times because there are so many different jurisdictions and so many regional differences when it comes to energy and the environment. For example, with such abundant hydro resources, British Columbia doesn’t rely much on coal to generate electricity. But just next door in Alberta, it’s a radically different story.

Despite the sometimes “involved” nature of the consultation period, two clear objectives were unwavering and drove the new regulations forward from start to finish.

The first was the fundamental commitment to advancing toward our targets for greenhouse gas and other toxic emissions.

The second was an acute awareness that all businesses—including electric utilities—need clear environmental guidelines and targets in order to upgrade, to build and to finance growth. When you invest hundreds of millions of dollars over several years in a power plant or any other facility, it’s generally a good idea to nail down the ground rules and expectations well in advance. And that was precisely the result that was reflected—just a few months later—in the Report on Business headline to which I referred.

At a time of considerable global market volatility, when competition for international investment capital is fierce, the last thing any business needs is more uncertainty in the mix. And that’s precisely why our Government has taken such a pragmatic and transparent approach to crafting our world-class environmental standards.

It’s been a core consideration from the outset: how can the Government ensure it set the bar as high as possible while still preserving the ability of companies to compete and to respond quickly to changes in market conditions?

When we started the sector-by-sector approach to greenhouse gas reduction that I mentioned earlier, we first tackled the biggest source of emissions: the automotive sector. Working together with all carmakers—and aligning with the United States government because designing and manufacturing cars and trucks is such a truly cross border business—we’ve made real progress.

Because we consulted and because we took the business development cycle into account, the tougher tailpipe emission standards that took effect this year will get even tougher in 2017. By 2025, cars sold in North America will have 50 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions and consume 50 percent less fuel than in 2008.

In that virtuous nexus, where environmental and business objectives converge, there are savings of around $900 in annual fuel savings for Canadians, as well as a 162 megatonne reduction in greenhouse gases.

Those are the kind of measures that will add momentum to the trend that’s seen Canada’s annual greenhouse gas emissions drop by 48 megatonnes since 2005.

Three weeks ago, I was in Mississauga to announce the latest step that we are taking to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. I announced the final regulations to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new on-road heavy duty vehicles and engines while aligning our measures with the United States.

With these tough new measures, greenhouse gas emissions from 2018 model year heavy-duty vehicles will be reduced by up to 23 percent and a semi-truck operator driving a 2018 model-year vehicle will save up to $8,000 per year in fuel.

Such strategic alignment of environmental imperatives with business realities is also reflected in the recent revision of another foundational piece of legislation, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

The changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act have generated a great deal of discussion—something that reflects the vigorous health of Canada’s democratic process. It’s a complex law and it affects a broad community of stakeholders, which makes it very deserving of the extensive consultation, scrutiny and debate it received.

The new Canadian Environmental Assessment legislation moves Canada much closer to the approach and practices of a world-class regulator. And it advances our mission to align environmental rigour with economic realities.

Let me give you some background as context.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was originally passed by Parliament in 1992 to ensure that projects requiring a federal decision also underwent a federal environmental assessment.

It may have made sense at the time, but a decade later, over 50 federal departments and agencies were assessing 6000 projects a year and it had—even by the admission of those who ran it—become a bureaucratic bottleneck.

It was duplicative, process-driven, and oblivious to priorities or time lines and there was inadequate assignment of responsibility for outcomes or completion. Federal departments were strangling themselves– and every project that came under their purview—with red tape.

That is why this government undertook to overhaul the Act. When the financial crisis hit in 2008 and stimulative spending was required to stabilize the domestic economy, it made less sense than ever to treat every new arena roof or road repair with exactly the same tools and process used to assess major mine development proposals.

As a result of the changes made last summer the Act is sleeker and more streamlined. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is now solely responsible for most assessments, rather than multiple federal departments at the same time. The process only deals with major projects and their effects in areas of federal jurisdiction.

It can now take only 45 days—including a 20-day period for public comment—to determine if a federal assessment is required. If it’s going to be an assessment under the Act, it must be done in a year. If it involves a full review panel, it must be done in two years.

The Agency and Environment Canada continue to work with their provincial counterparts—including those in British Columbia—to improve cooperation and coordination on new processes within the Act and other key policy instruments as well.

For example, we introduced the Single Window Reporting System which makes it much simpler for industry to report and submit their greenhouse gas emissions data to Environment Canada and provincial partner programs.

It just makes sense.

Proactively updating Canada’s environmental review process is all the more crucial given that our national economy is underpinned by development of our abundant natural resources. Oil, for example, now represents about 25 percent of everything Canada exports. And fully 13 percent of gross domestic product is dependent on healthy ecosystems—forestry, agriculture, oceans and tourism.But while modernizing and refining Canada’s environmental laws is certainly essential, we also have to amplify the benefits that accrue by simultaneously fostering innovation, science and technology.

To kick-start new environmental initiatives, Sustainable Development Technology Canada has earmarked $61.8 million for 23 new clean tech projects. Of that amount, $9 million will be directed to six of them in British Columbia. They include:

o    $1.4 million to MineSense Technologies in Vancouver for a mining waste reclamation project;
o    $1.7 million to Power Measurement in Burnaby for a smart controller technology project for electric vehicle substations;
o    $646,000 to Whale Shark Environmental Technologies in Vancouver for a ship hull-cleaning technology project;
o    $2.7 million to semiosBIO Technologies in Vancouver for an integrated pest management system;
o    $1 million to Diacarbon Energy Inc. in Burnaby for a bio-coal production facility; and,
o    $2 million to NuWave Research Inc. in Burnaby for a commercial crop-drying technology project.

These are just a few of the ground-breaking projects that have contributed—and will continue to contribute—to reducing emissions and pollution in our air, water and on land.

But even as it pushes ahead on those tracks, my department remains as committed as ever to its ongoing leadership in the areas of conservation, which is a vital part of our plan to ensure we protect our nation’s diverse environment.

When it comes to Canada’s record of environmental stewardship, our Government has a remarkable record of achievement. There is absolutely nothing for which we need to apologize to anyone, anywhere.

We may represent less than one half of one percent of the world’s population, but we are the guardians of 18 percent of the planet’s land mass, 30 percent of the freshwater supply, 25 percent of the wetlands, 10 percent of the forests and over 70,000 plant and animal species.

We have been unfailingly vigilant about our environmental responsibility: make no mistake that is precisely what such riches require—and deserve.

Last fall we released the Boreal Caribou Recovery Strategy to encourage self sustaining local herds of caribou across all their ranges. We worked with United States counterparts to reinforce and strengthen the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Work with provincial and territorial governments on the new Air Quality Management System is ongoing.

This government has also significantly increased Canada’s tapestry of national parks. It has expanded the size of the Nahanni National Park Reserve five-fold; created the Gwaii Hanas National Park Reserve and the Marine Conservation Park Reserve here in British Columbia; created new parks on Canada are other coast in Labrador’s Torngat and Meely Mountains. We also added a park on Sable Island, offshore Nova Scotia.

The work of Parks Canada is continuing.

Since 2006, the Harper Government has taken actions that will add almost 150,000 square kilometers to Parks Canada’s network of protected areas, a 53 percent increase.

Currently in British Columbia, our Government is working towards the proposed designation of the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area, a place where 40 percent of the province’s seabird population nests. We’re also working with the province on a feasibility study for the proposed Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservations Area Reserve.

All our conservation work—as it is with regulatory or legislative initiatives—is very consultative. Environment Canada works closely not just with provinces, but also with First Nations groups, local community leaders, environmental organizations and bodies like the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which has already helped us to protect 354,000 hectares of habitat for 146 species at risk, through the Natural Areas Conservation Program.

We also partner directly with individual Canadians through the Ecological Gifts Program, which offers tax incentives to landowners who are willing to donate their holdings—or even a partial interest—for conservation purposes.

Across Canada we’ve received more than a thousand private land donations worth over $620 million and covering 1,470 square kilometers. In British Columbia alone, 155 gifts worth over $226 million have protected 466,960 hectares of land.

This program is just one example of how Canadians have responded to our campaign to educate, to raise awareness, to create ways that encourage individuals to step up and help us reach our ambitious environmental targets. The Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk is another.

Our approach is working and our progress is encouraging. And it doesn’t stop here. These actions that we are taking are laying a foundation that will protect Canada’s environment for generations to come.

It requires constant assessment, revision, and acceptance of the reality that environmental policies are a permanent work in progress. But let me tell you, after more than two years on the job, it’s the best and the most rewarding work there is—or ever could be.

Thank you.

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