The Implementation Gap: Rhetoric and Reality in Canadian Natural Resource and Environmental Policy

By Howlett, Michael | Journal of Canadian Studies, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview
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The Implementation Gap: Rhetoric and Reality in Canadian Natural Resource and Environmental Policy


Howlett, Michael, Journal of Canadian Studies


Review

Last Stand: A Journey Through North America's Vanishing Ancient Rain forest. Larry Pynn. Vancouver: New Star Books, 1999.

Clearcutting the Pacific Rainforest.- Production, Science, and Regulation. Richard A. Rajala. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1998.

Against the Grain: Foresters and Politics in Nova Scotia. L. Anders Sandberg and Peter Clancy. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2000.

Fishing Places, Fishing People: Traditions and Issues in Canadian Small-Scale Fisheries. Eds. Dianne Newell and Rosemary E. Omer. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999.

Community, State and Market on the North Atlantic Rim: Challenges to Modernity in the Fisheries. Richard Apostle, Gene Barrett, Petter Holm, Svein Jentcroft, Leigh Mazany, Bonnie McCay and Knut Mikalsen. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

Voluntary Initiatives: The New Politics of Corporate Greening. Ed. Robert B. Gibson. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1999.

Communities, Development and Sustainability Across Canada. Eds. John T. Pierce and Ann Dale. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1999.

Biodiversity in Canada: Ecology, Ideas and Action. Ed. Stephen Bocking. Peterborough: Broadview, 2000.

Biodiversity and Democracy: Rethinking Society and Nature. Ed. Paul M. Wood. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2000.

Canada contains a large portion of the world's land mass and seacoast and, almost by definition, is home to a large portion of the world's wildlife and natural resources. Canadian natural resource and environmental policies, hence, are significant not only within Canada's boundaries, but outside them, and since the development of the conservation movement in the 1880s, Canada has been a major player on the stage of international resource and environmental policy making.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Canada earned a good reputation because the government and citizens led and promoted events such as the 1972 Stockholm conference on the environment, the United Nations' Environmental Program (UNEP) and the 1992 Rio Conference. More shrewd observers question this reputation and Canada's resource and environmental record must be held up to the light of actual practices on the ground.

It became apparent in the 1990s that there is a substantial implementation gap - a gap between government rhetoric and reality. In the Canadian resource and environmental policy this gap has increasingly come to characterize Canadian policy making. Against the positive record of Canadian federal governments in such areas as protection of the atmosphere from ozone pollution, for example, are the more recent embarrassments of the Hague, where Canada failed completely to live up its commitments on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions under the terms of the Kyoto protocol. Against the record Canadian provinces hold in creating new parks (and obtaining close to the Brundtland Commission's target of 12 per cent protected spaces) must be held the continuing difficulties associated with large-scale deforestation and clear cut logging. And against claims to embrace sustainability and biodiversity must be held the record of all levels of Canadian governments in contributing to the destruction of the east coast ground fish and West Coast salmon fisheries. Canadian governments have also continued to promote trapping and seal hunting associated with the fur industry, and they refuse to enact endangered species legislation to which they are committed by international conventions on biodiversity and endangered wildlife.

The books reviewed here, while different in origin, perspective, method and content, provide insight into the characteristics of and reasons for this severe implementation gap. Some suggest ways the gap can be filled, and Canada's unenviable record of inaction on major environmental issues in recent years reversed.

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