Manitoba’s environmental laws under siege


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THE laws and policies protecting Manitoba’s environment are under attack. Widespread deregulation has quietly been taking place in Manitoba’s environmental sector.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/11/2020 (745 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE laws and policies protecting Manitoba’s environment are under attack. Widespread deregulation has quietly been taking place in Manitoba’s environmental sector.

First, it was the lifting of the moratorium on new industrial hog operations. Changes were also made to the way we review the effectiveness of our phosphorus regulation and how we measure and report nitrates in our soil.

Recently, the Clean Environment Commission (CEC), the entity that is supposed to facilitate public participation in environmental matters, was tasked with producing a report focused on decreasing environmental legislative requirements for the forest management plan approval process in a way that excluded consideration of public, Indigenous and academic opinion.

This ongoing environmental deregulation reflects the priorities of a government that values unsustainable development over conservation and ease of industrial project approval over democratic governance.

Changes to The Planning Act two years ago, through Bill 19, resulted in a loss of decision-making power for locally elected municipal councils in relation to aggregate quarry operations and intensive livestock operations. These democratically elected councils can now have their decisions overruled by the provincially appointed Municipal Board, as was recently seen in the case of the Lilyfield Quarry in the RM of Rosser.

A similar reduction in power for democratically elected municipal officials is being proposed in the recently introduced Bill 37, the Planning Amendment and City of Winnipeg Charter Amendment Act. If passed, this law will grant the provincially appointed Municipal Board the power to overturn land-use decisions made by the City of Winnipeg when appeals are made by developers.

Another troubling legislative development, Bill 35 (formerly Bill 44), which amends the Public Utilities Board Act, among others, will strip the PUB of its impartial oversight of the setting of utility rates for electricity and gas. Proposed regulatory changes will also reduce opportunity for public participation in the utility rate-setting process. This could lead to the overt politicization of Manitoba Hydro, as utility rates will be established by cabinet behind closed doors.

The Auditor General of Manitoba has also recently issued a somber assessment of provincial oversight of drinking-water safety and highlighted some of the critical deficiencies inherent in Manitoba’s ability to provide adequate safeguards for its citizens’ health and the environment. The report also noted that efforts to adopt better drinking-water quality standards in order to protect human health have been impeded by the red-tape reduction mandate of the government as the “two-for-one rule” requires two existing regulatory requirements be removed for every new requirement created.

Manitoba is not on track to meet Canada’s commitment of a 30 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and is not even talking about the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. The potential privatization of some of Manitoba’s provincial parks is also very concerning.

Has anything good happened in the last few years? We give kudos when they are deserved. Innovation in working with philanthropic organizations has helped fund conservation and stewardship organizations in this province, and Manitoba is showing signs of moving toward better watershed planning. More resources will be required on this front, and we hope third-party funding through the new trust funds established will not mean a relinquishment of government’s duty and responsibility to protect the environment.

However, to forge ahead we must change our development priorities and move away from environmental deregulation. The health of Manitobans and the future of our natural resources depends on it. It is time for the government of Manitoba to restore public trust, improve accountability and transparency, and to listen to Manitobans, especially our youth, the generation that has the most to lose.

They are leading the call for a Green New Deal, a vision of Manitoba’s future that includes increases to the renewable energy sector, an Environmental Bill of Rights, bold emission reduction targets, the implementation of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and laws and policies that make sure that our most vulnerable citizens are not left behind.

The Manitoba Eco-Network will continue to work hard for Manitobans and do our best to oppose the onslaught of problematic regulatory and policy changes. We are grateful for the support of our members and are thankful for the hardworking community organizations and NGOs that are also seeking a more sustainable and inclusive future by our side.

But we cannot do this alone. Creating a better future is the responsibility of all Manitobans. It is time to come together, speak up and fight for a Manitoba that future generations will be proud of.

Glen Koroluk is executive director and Heather Fast is a PhD student and chair of the policy committee of the Manitoba Eco-Network.

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