Long-leash policy is now biting us

Something changed in B.C. in 2001 – and it wasn’t just the government. When Gordon Campbell and his Liberals decided to make B.C. more business-and industry-friendly, they had a vision of less red tape, fewer regulations and less government oversight of environmental standards.

The change in an entire model of how government should, or was, involved in environmental regulations and oversight was no minor thing – although downplayed by Liberals at the time.

I remember an interview in my office with Campbell during one of the campaigns as he brushed off my questions about the changes.

It was, he assured me, not necessary to have all the red tape from decades before because such strides had been made in protecting the environment. He also said that companies and businesses responded better to a “goal” model, instead of a punitive one.

Joyce Murray, then minister of Water, Land and Air Protection – thankfully, this “rebranding” was later dropped and the Ministry of Environment was reinstated – agreed with the new model.

The cynical journalist in me questioned exactly why industry would be quick to meet “expected” regulatory standards under this new long-leash formula. While Campbell argued that it was in industry’s

best interests to fully comply and be proactive, I wondered if he really believed what he was saying.

Honestly, it’s all about money. And he of all people had to have known that. And what business or industry doesn’t push the limits in an effort to squeeze more profits out of its enterprise? And if an industry’s delay in meeting expected goals just draws a nasty letter from some bureaucrat – well, heck, that’s not going to cut into the shareholders’ dividends.

Jump forward nearly a decade later and one can now see the impact of a lighter touch in environmental regulations

and compliance.

These kinder, gentler, less punitive environmental policies allowed the B.C. government to dump a lot of professionals who would have been doing regularly scheduled environmental and geotechnical appraisals. Biologists,

engineers – who needs them when the industries can hire their own and give you reports?

The policy may seem minor when one goes through the scads of changes wrought in environmental regulations during recent years.

Mines in parks? No problem. Environmental assessments for natural gas producers in the province? Who needs them? Fish farms? It’s all good.

Of course, compared to the Conservatives’ gutting of federal environmental

regulations, the Liberals look almost left of centre. But it’s cold comfort for those who care about the environment.

In the aftermath of the Mount Polley tailing pond disaster, Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said “this is not an issue of having enough inspectors on the ground.”

He could be right. At this point it could be about anything.

But it is surely the provincial government’s responsibility.

When you remodel a system to allow for the speeders to push the limits you are responsible for accidents that follow.

The government is just darn lucky that there were no people in the path of the Polley washout. This could have been about more than murdering the environment. It could have been about manslaughter.

Pat Tracy is the editor of the Burnaby Now, a sister publication of this newspaper.