The end of the school year in June means students get the final evaluation of their efforts before heading off to summer vacation, summer jobs — or summer school, if the grades weren’t good enough.
It should be the same for governments. After 14 months managing the environmental portfolio, the Pallister government is like a disappointing student who shows promise in September, but has not done much the rest of the year.
Such students skip a lot of classes and neglect their homework and whenever there is a test, they perform poorly.
The first example was the review of the cosmetic pesticides ban, already one of the more anemic ones in Canada. Public consultations were announced, so environmental and public health groups went back into their files and pulled out the materials they thought were no longer needed. Neither the science nor the health concerns had changed — just the government — which eventually showed the ideological face its detractors had predicted by ignoring the evidence and announcing there would be "practical" changes sometime soon.
From greener golf courses to greener lakes — and no new legislation addressing ongoing serious environmental concerns or habitat preservation — the next test was the Pallister government’s response to water quality. Regulations were relaxed for provincial hog producers and (despite all the current boil-water orders) so were rules for testing public water supplies. Given that environmental regulations are intended to prevent public harm, invoking the ideological "we hate red tape" instrument will mean more pollution of all kinds, not less.
Then, despite proclamations months ago of a "made-in-Manitoba" climate plan, nothing constructive has yet been done about greenhouse gas emissions. After multiple consultations with a wide variety of groups, the government produced a weak and poorly managed survey ostensibly "to find out what Manitobans want."
Given that the Pallister government, like others, shows little regard for what Manitobans think on other issues (such as emergency or urgent care departments), forgive me for being skeptical. Nothing has been done about point source emitters (such as the Brady Road landfill) or sectors such as transportation or agriculture, but (unbelievably!) the government wants to remove the municipal subsidy on operating costs and capital acquisitions for public transit to make it even less affordable. (No doubt this is also partly behind the recent decision by Exclusive Bus Lines to cancel the Winnipeg-Selkirk run they took over last July.)
Communities outside Winnipeg need public transportation subsidies to get people out of their cars, but if Transit Tom gets the ideological boot from the Pallister government, it’s clear Selkirk, Brandon or Thompson can go whistle.
Instituting the federal $10-per-tonne carbon tax would add only a few cents a litre to gas prices that already yo-yo up and down for no apparent reason, so no one’s lifestyle is going to be punished into being greener. We would need a carbon tax of about $300 a tonne to raise gas prices up to what they were a few years ago — when, despite the cost of fuel, provincial sales of small trucks and SUVs had never been higher.
Should the government choose to show actual leadership on greenhouse gas emissions, however, carbon tax revenue could be used to fund more alternatives in public transportation, giving people better choices than they have right now.
But that would involve a real green plan for the province instead of vaguely green promises, tainted by ideology that trumps evidence and common sense.
Such a sustainability plan would need to be effectively managed, but Green Manitoba was just disbanded along with the other special operating agencies, leaving a swirl of related environmental responsibilities that now are supposed to be handled by the Department of Sustainable Development.
It was another ideological move — like cutting management positions by 15 per cent — that likely saves no money and only generates inefficiencies that a real restructuring could have avoided.
Speaking of other such moves, the worst one was dismantling the PowerSmart division of Manitoba Hydro in order to create a new Crown agency to do the same thing, eventually and undoubtedly at higher cost, just as the Public Utilities Board has been asked to hike prices for electricity.
Premier Pallister should spend his vacation in Costa Rica at summer school, learning some of their ideas about how to manage the land in an ecologically responsible and sustainable manner — taking care of forests and natural resources, protecting lands, sustainable agriculture and moving away from fossil fuels.
If he does, then perhaps next year his government would earn at least a passing grade for its efforts to create a sustainable future for all Manitobans.
Peter Denton is the author of three recent books on sustainability issues and chairs the policy committee of the Green Action Centre.