In 2007, the Nova Scotian legislature passed an ambitious piece of legislation called the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, EGSPA, which is called “eggs-puh” in wonk circles.
EGSPA was spearheaded by then-Environment Minister Mark Parent, a preacher turned politician who represents the best of the old-school of the Progressive Conservative party. Parent parented EGSPA, pushing the bureaucracy, his own caucus, and the other two parties as well to sign on, and the Act was passed with unanimous consent of the legislature. At the time, Silver Donald Cameron, who I trust implicitly on such matters, criticized EGSPA as too weak, but I really do think the Act seemed like a watershed moment in Nova Scotia, when for the first time everyone was singing more or less from the same hymnal. Those were hopeful times. Bureaucrats were suddenly selling themselves as tree huggers, even the PCs were talking about green initiatives, and it felt like something fundamental had changed.
But then the global financial collapse sent tax revenues south, and gave the lie to the fantastical dream the Halifax would become Singapore North. The Sable Island gas field turned out to have been much less substantial than originally imagined, and most of the gas produced was exported directly out of the province. Nova Scotia Power was stuck with the reality of four dirty coal-powered generating plants. And political reality set in for all the parties. The heady times were over.
Still, we had EGSPA, which after all was the law of the land. The Act set out concrete targets on a 21 environmental measures, ranging from air quality to water standards to the protection of 12 percent of the province’s land mass. Each of the targets was tied to a specific target date, and the Act required the bureaucracy to report back to the legislature every year, to explain what progress had or had not been made, why or why not, and what could be done about it.
Over each of the next five years, the Department of Environment dutifully tracked how the province had hit or missed the targets, and the media, myself included, regurgitated the information, so the public knew of the successes and failures.
But a funny thing happened in 2013: the department failed to issue an annual report. And, because we’re mostly lemmings that need to be led, no media noticed, until I happened upon it yesterday. So because there was no report, the legislature is that much less tuned in to environmental issues, and because there was no media coverage, the public is that much less involved in tracking our environmental progress.
I called the department to find out why the report hadn’t been issued, and spokesperson Lori Errington told me that between last fall’s election and the revision of the act to tweak some of the indicators and timelines, department staff was simply too busy to produce the annual report. “We had the same staff but much more work,” she said.
But isn’t an annual report mandated by the Act itself?
“Yes,” replied Errington, “but the act doesn’t set out any penalties for failing to issue the report.”
Having failed to issue last year’s report, the department will this fall issue a two-year report, and the department will return to issuing annual reports next year, says Errington.
In retrospect, Tim, I think you’re right — the passing of EGSPA was indeed a watershed moment, and a remarkable instance of unanimity in the legislature, and a monument to the leadership of Mark Parent. It was a great statement of what Nova Scotians genuinely wanted to be and do. But if you go back and look at the concrete results that were supposed to flow from EGSPA, my doubts seem to have been well-founded.
I wrote: “By 2009, we are told, Nova Scotia will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions to 20% below 2000 levels. By 2010, the government will impose emissions standards for new motor vehicles, a la California. The province will also meet national standards for airborne fine particulates and reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by 50% “from sources existing in 2001.””
In the document that gave rise to EGSPA, we were told that “by 2010, we will attract 3600 immigrants a year. Disposable income per capita will rise 5%, as will real GDP per capita….By 2011, we’ll see a net in-migration of people under 30.”
I didn’t think those objectives could be met without a hard-headed, realistic strategy, and I didn’t discern one. EGSPA is a grand tool — but we’ve never developed the muscles required to employ it effectively. That really is a tragedy.
Welcome to the NS Environment Department, Tim. The same Department that gives itself 30 days to respond to an application under their Act or else the application is deemed to be approved, but they then call you back on day 29 and say “we need more time, and if you don’t give it to us, then the answer is NO and you have to re-apply”. And they repeat this until they get around to it.
They just re-wrote their own Act, which actually gives them permission to make up Regulations on the fly, with no public proclamation. The most recent revision they used to take out their obligation to protect the socio-economic well being of Nova Scotians, so they can now take your home, put you out of business, bankrupt you with fines, etc with themselves as cop, judge and executioner. Only Cabinet (which seems oblivious to all of this) or the NS Supreme Court can overrule them. And I’m not sure about Cabinet.
I won’t use your site to link to my blog (bad manners), I’ll just email you a link to my critique of their last proposed set of changes, which I think are about done now.
I would love to see that link to learn more! Thanks.
Hopefully the revisions of the act will include penalties that the Minister of the Environment could impose on the Minister of the Environment for not following the regulations set out by the Minister…. oh, never mind.