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NDP’s green screen 

Premier Darrell Dexter and his historic NDP majority talk a good game on the environment, but they act more like Conservatives

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As we approach three years with a provincial NDP government, the Sierra Club's Gretchen Fitzgerald sums up its environmental track record: "I'm glad the province isn't antagonistic to the environment like the feds are, but they certainly haven't made it a priority."

Nova Scotia's first-ever NDP majority started off well, banning uranium mining and cosmetic lawn pesticides. Since then it's been treading water. "They committed to adopting the Genuine Progress Index as a key progress measure," Fitzgerald says. "That would have helped if they'd actually done that."

Three-quarters of the way through its term, the government has failed to deliver on most of its 2009 environmental commitments. It promised to create an Environmental Commissioner to give the vaunted Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act teeth. Hasn't happened.

It's made surprisingly little progress on the commitment to protect 12 percent of land by 2015. The proposed Chignecto Wilderness Area was consulted up the ying yang, yet the community awaits an announcement. Apparently Nova Scotia Environment lacks the capacity to finish the paperwork.

The NDP announced a 50 percent reduction in clearcutting in 2010, but has yet to define "clearcutting," meaning harvesting rules haven't actually changed. Environmentalists say some companies are on a clearcutting bonanza, anticipating eventual changes.

Give the NDP credit for legislating that 40 percent of electricity sold by Nova Scotia Power be generated from renewable sources by 2020.

On the demand side, it created Efficiency Nova Scotia, "an independent administrator to help Nova Scotians cut electricity use." But then it included electricity from the Lower Churchill Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project---which was deemed by its own environmental assessment panel as having significant environmental effects that can't be mitigated---toward that target. Renewable doesn't always mean sustainable.

The NDP has done little to phase out coal despite a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. In a bid to screw the forest and climate in one fell swoop, the province allowed forest biomass as a renewable resource to help NSP meet its mandated goal, condemning 700,000 tonnes of trees to be clearcut and burned annually, inefficiently capturing just 39 percent as energy.

The NDP has been better at generating papers than actions. In 2010 it released its Water Resource Management Strategy, which was strong on progressive integrated management language and weak on investments, deadlines or methods of change.

Urgent actions, like wetland conservation, were scheduled in four to 10 years, but a Wetlands Policy was required by law by 2009.

Fracking, a method of mining inshore natural gas that involves injecting the earth with chemicals---a tremendous threat to water quality---is not mentioned. Exploration has begun, test wells are in place and the NDP is waiting until after the election to decide on the legality of the process.

Another NDP paper is the draft Coastal Strategy, which lacks financial commitments, deadlines or legislative changes. It also ignores fish farms, which it's a big fan of despite the disease outbreaks and ocean pesticides. The province thinks aquaculture will create 350 jobs in the environment minister's Shelburne riding.

"That many employees would mean a process rate of two fish per hour," says Raymond Plourde of the Ecology Action Centre. That would be a glacial rate no employer would reasonably accept. Fish farms show the NDP's priority: jobs. Or the remote promise of them from any multinational with an upward arrow graph.

There have been good things, like overruling Kings County's attempt to sell off farmland, implementing the one-metre rule for cyclists, declaring June "Active Transportation Month." But nearly every success is undone by toothless or absent legislation. Witness an idling bylaw without penalties.

Underlying its failure to address the environmental crisis is the obsession with debt reduction you'd expect from Conservatives. The latest provincial budget address didn't mention environment, and the budget itself cut environment department spending by $1.2 million, eliminating several jobs.

It's old-school bottom line thinking. And all the strategies and action plans amount to a handy way to make it look like we're doing something about the environmental crisis while investing no actual resources or making enforceable rules to protect our future.

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