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Regulatory Excellence

by Ken Summers


From a Chronicle Herald editorial:

Regulatory excellence.

If this province did a great job of regulating the environmental, health and nuisance risks that come with resource and industrial development, we’d not only have a happier public and a cleaner place to live.

Nothing stalls the acceptance of new industries like a public that doesn’t trust its government to ensure they operate in a safe, clean and healthy manner.

Examples of these new industries are shale gas fracking and aquaculture- both of which have turned up hornets nests of public opposition in Nova Scotia.

The solution: good regulation, and everyone is happy. We all get the proverbial cake and eat it too.

The Herald editorial was inspired by a front page interview with Ecology Action Centre Marine Coordinator Susan Fuller, who championed strong environmental regulations as a pillar for Nova Scotia's economic resurgence.

“If we felt that when an industry went forward that it would be regulated and the benefits would come back to the community, then I think we’d be much less averse to things changing.” 

Fuller said Nova Scotia has “huge potential” for sustainable economic growth in natural resource extraction and manufacturing.

What is not to like in those laudable goals?

Fuller's comments raise more concerns than may be immediately apparent.

The Aquaculture Review commissioned by the previous NDP government conducted a commendable and thorough examination of industry practices and regulatory regimes, and recently tabled its draft report.

The Ecology Action Centre noted its disappointment that the report did not call for an end to open pen aquaculture. EAC also expressed it's belief that “if this proposed regulatory regime were fully implemented, few if any of the current open net pen salmon farms in Nova Scotia would be allowed to continue to operate. At this point they aren’t even able to meet the current, weak regulations. So it is doubtful they could meet the much higher regulatory standards being proposed by the independent panel”.

That same EAC release also had words of caution from Wilderness Coordinator Raymond Plourde.

“We’ve seen it time and again. Independent review panels struck to deal with contentious issues, widespread public consultations held, detailed reports with strong recommendations produced, solemn commitments by government to half-measures, half-measures never fully implemented and little or no follow up in the form of monitoring, enforcement or reporting, all leading to little or no meaningful change.”

When these valiant efforts at stronger regulations built from broad and thorough public consultations fall so far short, Susanna Fuller's approach would indicate that we need to pull up our socks and work harder to reach the promised land.

Time and again the end result of the work of so many is a public genuinely concerned about the environmental practices of the industry in question, but lulled by government promises that something has changed. We get at the same time an industry that by working the backrooms gets the "facts on the ground" that mean they will not need to worry about a significant challenge to the status quo.

Is it perhaps more accurate to see the siren call of “regulatory excellence” as a station on the assembly line of bait and switch that gives us another paper tiger? 

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