Preston Manning is the founder of the Manning Centre, and the former leader of the Reform Party of Canada.
There was a time when Canadians were known for seeking balance in our public affairs – preferring, for example, a mixed economy to one dominated by either the state or unrestricted private enterprise, or a multicultural society rather than one dominated by a single ethnic or linguistic group.
On the issue of the environment versus the economy, however, we are in danger of becoming dangerously and permanently unbalanced – polarized, with the aid of political extremists on both sides, to the point where little progress is possible on either front. So, here are six suggestions for restoring balance to the environment-economy debate, which feel particularly necessary in a federal election year when many participants will be surely tempted to succumb to the short-term benefits of simplistic polarization.
First: Balance environmental and economic-impact assessments. Legislation exists and, rightly so, requiring environmental impact-assessments of major economic projects. But legislation is also needed to mandate economic-impact assessments of major environmental protection measures. Only then will the public and governments have the informed perspective required to strike the appropriate balance between the two considerations.
Balance attention to atmospheric pollution with attention to the increasing pollution of other ecosystems. The exclusive focus of many politicos and interest groups on atmospheric pollution diverts needed attention away from other pressing pollution problems, such as those associated with the pollution of land and water resources. “The environment” from nature’s perspective is holistic; shouldn’t our approach to its protection be holistic, as well?
Balance remedial measures with adaptive measures. Two basic responses to climate change, not one, are required. One is to adopt measures to avoid or mitigate contributing human activities, which is the entire focus of current federal government policy. But the other is to simultaneously pursue adaptive measures with equal vigour, since some of the factors affecting climate change are beyond human control.
Balance consultative processes. Democratic governance requires consultation with citizens and affected interests on major public policies. Governments of all stripes profess to be committed to such consultations. But far too often, these consultations are one-sided, with inordinate attention paid to consulting with those who already support the government’s predetermined position while ignoring or deprecating the positions of those who might oppose or seek to change it. If consultation is a prerequisite to finding consensus and common ground, it must be balanced, not biased.
Balance domestic with international initiatives. Canada’s environmental-protection practices, including those of the energy sector, are more advanced and stringent than those of many other countries. In some cases, exporting clean technology and clean energy resources to such countries may be a far more effective way of reducing pollution on a global scale than simply tightening already stringent environmental-protection measures at home. (For example, the export of natural gas to China from one proposed LNG plant on the B.C. coast will make possible the replacement of several dozen coal fired generating plants in that country – achieving a greater global greenhouse gas reduction than any comparable investment in GHG reduction measures in Canada.)
Balance governmental and private sector actions with personal and local commitments and actions. Much of the debate on how best to achieve environmental conservation and better economic performance focuses on macro-initiatives by governments and the private sector to secure these ends. The impression is given that “somebody else” – the government or business – will protect our environment and increase our economy, and that I as an individual need to do nothing but accept their efforts and reap the benefits. Such exclusive reliance on government and industry needs to be balanced by personal commitments and specific actions on the part of individuals, families and local communities to environmental conservation and economic growth, if their simultaneous advancement is to be achieved.
We can start that balance by strongly encouraging partisan participants in the upcoming federal election to declare their commitment to finding balance on the environment-economy front before articulating the specifics of their party’s positions on either subject. For example, at the all-candidates meetings, voters should feel empowered to ask: “What do you propose to achieve balance between environmental conservation and economic development as distinct from further polarizing debate on these issues?” And for the sake of the country and its future well-being, let us ensure that our votes help the balancers, not the polarizers, prevail.
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