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A marathon followed by a sprint


“Conservation takes so long”
“These processes eat up so much time”
“It is so complicated to protect land and water”

It’s true. Conservation work is a marathon. Consultations, studies, negotiations, analysis and political will on the part of many levels of government are all necessary to make conservation happen.

Last week, three pieces of conservation legislation moved through the House of Commons within a week with all-party consent – at a sprint. And the Senate adopted the three bills within two days. So it doesn’t always have to take forever.

Conservation is one of these rare places where most political parties can agree. It is rarely divisive (although it is not devoid of division from time to time). Legislation on conservation issues can move through decision-making processes very quickly. This week is proof.

In one week, we extended the moratorium on exploration and drilling on George’s Bank off the coast of Nova Scotia, created a new National Park in Nunavut and formalized a National Marine Conservation Area in Lake Superior.

Now, I don’t want to claim that there weren’t years of hard work behind each of these projects. They did take time to get to the place where decision-makers could finalize the conservation outcomes. However, political will can make many things possible.

Congratulations to our MPs and Senators for moving so swiftly to protect our wilderness this week. Congratulations to the Inuit and other aboriginal communities that have been working so carefully through these processes. Congratulations to the environmental groups who have rallied support for these new protected areas (in particular WWF-Canada, Nature Canada and Ecology Action Centre). Congratulations to the public servants who pulled so much of this work together.

Interestingly, it takes almost as much time to protect ten square kilometres as it does to protect 50,000 square kilometres. The processes are the same. So why are we paddling a tiny raft to reach our destination? If we’re ever going to protect the size of land and water that is needed to ensure biodiversity, clean air, fresh water, provide carbon sinks that will help to mitigate the impacts of climate change… we’re going to need a bigger boat.

Large-landscape and large-seascape conservation needs an appropriate scale. That’s why we’ve been asking governments of all stripes, levels and regions to put together a plan that actually helps us reach our ambitious goals. Canada has the biggest conservation opportunity in the world. It’s a gift we need to make to ourselves for our 150th anniversary.

Not to mention that we are going to need to meet our international commitments to protect at least 17% of our land and 10% of our ocean by 2020 So far we’ve only protected 10% of our land and 1% of our water, but this week’s progress shows what’s possible. It’s important to keep in mind that the 2020 target is meant to be a next step towards the much bigger scale of protection that’s needed in the long term. CPAWS has been saying that we need to protect at least half. More and more people are making that point too. Nature needs half.

So let’s celebrate these conservation outcomes that have been long in preparation but quick in creation. Let’s hope we can see the same kind of enthusiasm for conservation between now and 2020.

See my speaking notes to the Senate Committee here:

Bill C-61 (Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area)
Bill C-72 (Qausuittuq National Park)