Thank you very much. It's a privilege and an honour to be invited to speak today about establishing a national conservation plan for Canada.
Since our founding in 1939, Nature Canada has been instilling in Canadians a respect for nature, an appreciation for its wonders, and a will to act in its defence. It began when our founder, Reginald Whittemore, launched a magazine, Canadian Nature, in honour of his late wife, Mabel Frances, an educator and nature lover. Over time, the magazine sparked a movement of naturalists in every province and territory of this country, people who worked together to create and sustain a nature nation, a place where every Canadian felt a personal connection to the natural world.
Today, as the national voice for naturalists in this country, Nature Canada continues the work in building a nature nation, and it's in this spirit that I’m happy to join you here today.
The first question you asked us to consider was what should be the purpose of a national conservation plan.
We often hear Canada described in superlatives: the longest river, the largest lakes, the most contiguous forests and wetlands, massive wildlife migrations, and unfathomable mineral and energy riches. Consider this: 20% of the planet’s wilderness, 20% of the world’s fresh water, and 30% of its boreal forest lies within our borders.
Many Canadians make their living, directly or indirectly, from its bounty, and many more continue to enjoy the outdoors recreationally. Yet, increasingly, Canadians appear to be losing touch with nature in Canada, even as nature is experiencing worsening pressures: our wildlife is disappearing, our forest and grassland habitats are increasingly fragmented, rapid climate change is threatening the north, and our real-time connection with nature and the outdoors has declined. So while it is often stated that Canada is seen as a nature nation, and that this is part of our national identity, this is something that should never be taken for granted. We believe, then, that the purpose of the national conservation plan should be to build and strengthen a “nature first” ethic by inspiring and motivating Canadians to value and conserve nature.
The second question you asked us to consider was what should be the goals of a national conservation plan.
The goals for the national conservation plan should focus on finding ways of collaboratively harnessing the efforts of all sectors in society:
1) Seek innovative and inspirational ways of raising awareness of the value of nature to all Canadians, especially our young people. We need a conservation youth corps, and we need more programs like My Parks Pass, which facilitates 400,000 eighth graders to engage in our treasured national parks.
2) Encourage corporate social and environmental responsibility to achieve excellence in nature conservation. Recognize corporations like General Motors, which has as a goal to conserve wildlife habitat around each of the business units worldwide by 2020, and TransCanada Corporation, which has allocated millions of dollars to help secure critical wildlife habitat and engage naturalists in their conservation. There are many others.
3) Identify new and innovative mechanisms to fund nature conservation in Canada. Consider perhaps the establishment of a nature challenge fund to support local community stewardship of natural places.
4) Develop a reporting mechanism that accurately reflects the state of nature in Canada based on existing data management systems like NatureServe and make this information publicly accessible.
5) Act globally. Air, water, wildlife, perhaps no better represented than in our migratory birds, move freely in and out of our country. Our commitments and obligations under international conventions to which we are a party, including the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Migratory Birds Convention Act, must be reflected in the substance of the national conservation plan.
The third question you asked us to consider was what guiding principles should govern a national conservation plan.
We considered three: inclusivity, partnership, and momentum.
What do I mean by inclusivity? We all have a stake in a healthy, balanced environment. We all benefit from the many ecosystem services that nature provides. The development of a national conservation plan should and must involve all regions of the country and all stakeholders.
In terms of partnerships, the pressures facing the environment are really too complex, and the scope of nature conservation too vast, to address without marshalling the collective efforts of committed Canadians, NGOs, industry, academia, government, and others. Work must be coordinated, efforts synchronized, and lessons shared among partners striving towards a common goal.
In terms of momentum, this is absolutely critical. We must build on the work already under way to conserve nature in Canada. There are legions of volunteers already on the front lines of nature conservation. Volunteer caretakers are adopting important sites for biodiversity and are working with local communities to do that. There are many Canadians who already dedicate time to protecting or stewarding their environment. Some have dedicated their whole lives to this cause. Let’s build on what they’re accomplishing today.
The fourth question you asked us to consider was what conservation priorities should be included in the NCP. At Nature Canada we stumbled on this one, because there were literally dozens of priorities. We boiled them down to a set of about six.
First, among children especially, increase awareness of nature, including our wildlife, our protected areas, and the services nature provides to our well-being. That is about building the nature nation.
Second, make sure that there are no extinctions on our watch and that the great flyways and migratory routes are secured. Ensure that the causes of species endangerment and decline are identified and mitigated so that no more species become at risk.
Third, aim for 20% protection of Canada's land and seascapes, exceeding the Aichi targets established by the Convention on Biological Diversity. This includes a push to complete the national parks strategy. Not only that, provide greater recognition for Canada's official national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries, which support much of Canada's biodiversity and yet are virtually unknown by Canadians.
Fourth, maintain and improve upon existing environmental legislation and make it an effective tool for nature conservation.
A fifth and obvious one is to ensure the quality of Canada's great lakes, river systems, and aquifers, which we seldom hear about.
Finally, in terms of priorities, let's leave a legacy of environmental leadership. Let's make Canada a global leader in nature conservation by meeting and exceeding our obligations under international nature conventions, such as the CBD, the Convention on Biological Diversity. And provide leadership and support to countries that share our conservation goals but perhaps not our capacity to implement.
On the fifth question, what the implementation priorities of the national conservation plan should be, first, let's find a cost-effective way to engage all Canadians, in part by leveraging existing networks.
Second, enhance cross-jurisdictional communication, participation, and cooperation, including cooperation between different departments at each level of government. All jurisdictions have a role in realizing Canada's national conservation objectives, and all jurisdictions should be at the table for these conversations.
Let's make sure to include and engage first nations and aboriginal government organizations in all our discussions at the beginning, at the outset.
Finally, meaningful, balanced working groups of stakeholders from all sectors of Canadian society should be brought together to oversee conservation plans within ecologically relevant regions, such as ecoregions and/or ecozones.
Finally, you asked us what consultation process the minister should consider using when developing the national conservation plan. We kind of internalized that one. Instead of thinking about the consultation process, we thought more about what Nature Canada could potentially provide to that process. I would just like to fill you in on an initiative that was supported by the federal government and that we think could provide a platform for further dialogue.
In 2007, the federal government provided about $1 million to help facilitate one of the most extensive consultations ever undertaken among the naturalist community in Canada. This resulted in a Canadian Nature Network strategy, which you have copies of. In essence, the Canadian Nature Network strategy aspires to be an inclusive alliance of all who care for, have passion for, and celebrate nature.
The network aims have three specific foci. The first is to protect nature in Canada at all levels, including species, habitats, and ecosystems. The second is to connect all Canadians to nature and to promote a nature ethic. The third is to empower all levels of the network by enhancing communication, reducing duplication, and increasing local capacity.
Led by Nature Canada, the network has accomplished much in terms of contributing to science, on-the-ground conservation, positive impacts on policy development at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels, and nature education. As such, the network, with its hundreds of organizations and over 60,000 dedicated members, provides a unique platform to facilitate and implement a dialogue on a nature conservation plan.
In conclusion, we are very excited by the opportunity, we recognize the challenge, and we look forward to inspiring Canadians to engage in a national conservation plan to build that nature nation.