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Evidence of meeting #37 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was land.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

David Collyer  President, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Murray Elliott  Vice-President, Health, Safety, Environment and Sustainable Development, Shell Canada Limited
Gordon Lambert  Vice-President, Sustainable Development, Suncor Energy Inc.
Richard Dunn  Vice-President, Canadian Division, Regulatory and Government Relations, Encana Corporation
Brenda Kenny  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Energy Pipeline Association
David Pryce  Vice-President, Operations, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Larry Sears  Chairman, Alberta Grazing Leaseholders Association
Lorne Fitch  Provincial Riparian Specialist, Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society - Cows and Fish
Bob Jamieson  As an Individual
Jake Veasey  Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research, Calgary Zoo
Kevin Strange  Senior Advisor, Conservation Outreach, Calgary Zoo
Doug Sawyer  Chair, Alberta Beef Producers
Rich Smith  Executive Director, Alberta Beef Producers
Lynn Grant  Chair, Environment Committee, Canadian Cattlemen's Association
Alan Gardner  Executive Director, Southern Alberta Land Trust Society
Stephen Vandervalk  Alberta Vice-President, Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association
Bill Newton  Member, Board of Governors, Western Stock Growers' Association
Norman Ward  Member, Board of Governors, Western Stock Growers' Association
Fawn Jackson  Manager, Environmental Affairs, Canadian Cattlemen's Association

3 p.m.

Member, Board of Governors, Western Stock Growers' Association

Norman Ward

Thank you for the question.

I think we need to go back and define what cumulative effects are. If we look at all of the effects on the ecosystem, we need to be very careful that we don't start to slot those or put them into silos. We may have cumulative effects for agriculture. We may have another set of cumulative effects for the oil and gas industry, and we may have another set of cumulative effects for a subdivision around a city. The challenge for government will be balancing those cumulative effects. In many cases, we see government, through societal goals, saying that they want to have a subdivision all the way around the city, and they start to look at the cumulative effects of that issue only.

We're saying we need to balance all of those. So we would look at the environmental, social, and financial, but all of those have a cumulative effect. An example may be—and Mr. Grant brought it up—where we have a grasslands park that didn't have a grazer in the park. That would be looking at a social, cumulative effect where it's as if we want to narrowly focus on that. Instead we should have balanced that social goal with the environmental and the financial, and built in all those cumulative effects together--quite a different concept.

Another example would be the development of oil and gas in northeastern Alberta, where government has focused very narrowly on cumulative effect with regard to the oil and gas sector, at the absence sometimes of environmental goals within the area. Again, we need to balance all of that.

3:05 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Thank you for your comments. I agree with you entirely. That's something we have heard repeatedly during our hearings. Witnesses have highlighted the importance of taking cumulative effects into account. You added another key element, that of a more comprehensive approach, more ecosystem-based, more holistic. Other witnesses discussed that as well. You may have been the one who mentioned the importance of a holistic approach. The day before yesterday and a few weeks ago, other witnesses stressed that same point. Our national conservation plan must not disregard that aspect.

Could you elaborate on your recommendation for a national conservation plan? At the federal level, how should we develop such an approach, that is to say, more ecosystem-based, more holistic, and, if I recall correctly, more dynamic, as you put it? Could you sum up your recommendation for the committee?

3:05 p.m.

Member, Board of Governors, Western Stock Growers' Association

Dr. Bill Newton

The term likely was less linear or more holistic, because these are dynamic, complex systems, and you can't pick out a single objective or goal and pursue it at the expense of others.

In terms of the federal government approaching this plan on an ecosystem basis, I think it comes back to how you make your decisions and incorporating the fact that they all have to balance—the social, environmental, and economic. So if the housewife in downtown Calgary thinks it's important to protect a certain species, that requires someone to forgo opportunity on their operations and their businesses. That same person needs to recognize that there will be a cost to them associated with that, so we don't have people making decisions and requests, thinking that it comes from nowhere or from government. In the end, we all have to pay for the decisions we make, and we all have to live within our means.

So I think one of the major challenges of a national conservation plan is to inform and educate all our consumers of ecosystem services that it isn't free. Carbon storage is not free. Water capture and retention is not free. Air quality is not free. Certainly to date we haven't had a marketplace for them, and they have been provided as a side benefit of other production systems, but as we continue to shift our ecosystem service supply and demand, we think we likely will have to come to a marketplace for those other services.

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you very much.

Just for the benefit of the witnesses, when I am giving this baseball signal it means your time is up. You can finish your thought. You don't have to stop immediately, but time has expired.

Next we'll hear from Mr. Lunney. You have seven minutes.

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to all the witnesses for their contributions so far.

You've all said so many interesting things. There are questions across the board here, but I'll just start with Mr. Sawyer.

You made a remark about wetlands and sloughs—I think you called them—and keeping land productive. There are ways, as we hear from other witnesses, to actually enhance or protect biodiversity in those sensitive areas on your land and still increase the productivity of your land.

Do organizations share best practices? I did hear you say there's a lack of recognition for those who have protected sensitive areas from the beginning, as opposed to those who are now recovering and getting some help and compensation for that.

What kinds of best practices are being shared? Maybe others would like to comment on that as well.

3:10 p.m.

Chair, Alberta Beef Producers

Doug Sawyer

Certainly all of our organizations collectively work towards that in terms of our extension and our outreach programs to producers. As producers see successes or new research becomes available to show the benefits, we try to get that out as quickly and as effectively as we can.

As we were saying, often in our previous practices or our ongoing practices we've done something that we felt was in the best interests of either our business or the land, and then we have come to realize that there's a better method. Generally speaking, in terms of the ranchland in particular, what's good for the ecosystem on the land is what makes me profitable and sustainable, and that's where I was going with that.

In terms of my land, it's the balance I keep on my land that gets me through some of the droughts, some of the tougher times, and also provides a variety of grass that is at its peak nutrition throughout the entire year. It's maintaining that natural balance that keeps me sustainable and makes me actually profitable. So I have the balance of wetland, by our choice, as a family over the years, because we need that, and we need a certain amount of bush land, and we need a certain amount of open land.

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

I appreciate your raising that point. It's a valid observation. Some people, some farms, and especially families have maintained effective stewardship over generations, and have maybe not been recognized for that.

Mr. Grant, you made a comment about having your cake and eating it too. You did give a very valid description, I think, of how grazers leave their deposits, which encourages insect growth, which attracts songbirds, and how the cycle works. We understand, even though most of us in this circle aren't farmers. Some of our other members actually have very strong rural roots and would be very glad to engage in this discussion, but for others of us, we appreciate hearing how this works.

I think the fact that grazing and cattle production are actually good for the ecosystem is not well appreciated or understood. We have a communication challenge here, and I think all of the organizations would maybe want to be helping us understand how we can engage the urban population, who by and large may not appreciate those aspects. How do we address that in a communications strategy?

Have you made some attempt to connect with the generation that doesn't have the experience of growing up in a rural setting, to engage with them about ranchlands, to give them a chance to actually see and learn? Collectively, all of you ranchers here are busy on your own land trying to generate a profit, but somewhere among you there must be someone who could take that on for the group, to engage the urban population with some demonstration projects to actually show off what you are doing to improve the environment.

3:10 p.m.

Chair, Environment Committee, Canadian Cattlemen's Association

Lynn Grant

Well, we all do it with our limited resources. We try to address that education process. Something we would need provincial governments to do—because education is very jurisdictional—is to get examples of that kind of stewardship into their readers and school programs, so it would become common knowledge as people grow up with it.

The other thing that we and the bigger society need to do, and this process is part of that, is to create a culture—and culture is what we believe as a society—of conservation that we haven't had before. In our history, it's really mostly in the last maybe 50 years that we've created enough technology to have the capability of doing some very significant harm to ecosystems in a very short time. Our thinking—and not just industry's but all of society's—has not caught up with that technological capability. Just as the medical community has problems with ethics concerning what they should do with some of the technology they have for keeping people alive, in the same way the thinking of society has not kept up with our technological capability to do some pretty significant harm.

But as Mr. Vandervalk said, advances in technology and understanding are now enabling us to do a better job of enhancing the ecosystem while we maintain food production and productivity, energy production, that sort of thing. So we all need to develop the ability to do that outreach and fit that in, because as a society, if you lose the connection to where your food comes from and how it gets to you, you lose the ability to make the system function effectively, and you elected people, especially, then have to cater to voters who do not properly understand the issues.

That's a real challenge for you guys, because you not only have to be politicians, but I would hope that each and every one of you would think of yourself as a statesman to do the right thing, for the resource and for the people, and not just to respond to uninformed political pressure to get re-elected.

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Next is Ms. Fry, for seven minutes.

May 17th, 2012 / 3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank everyone. I also want to apologize for having to run out of the room; something is breaking in Vancouver, and I had to talk to the media about it.

I've been following this for three days now, and I must say I'm impressed by what I'm hearing from everyone. There seems to be an understanding of the holistic nature and the interrelationship of everything. I think the debate publicly has always been either/or—it has be this, at the cost of that—and not understanding all of the ways in which everything is interwoven. So I'm glad to hear you saying that, because it really does help.

I'm pleased to hear everyone talking about science and measurements and monitoring. You know, as the great Yogi Berra used to say, if you don't know where you're going, how are you going to know when you get there? The bottom line is that we need to monitor, we need to measure, and we need to set clear goals and clear targets. So I'm pleased to hear all that.

I just want to ask some straightforward questions. First, you talked about forms of compensation for people who are conserving on their own lands. I know that the ecological gifts program, which came in around 2004, looked at major land trusts that were donated by people who had a lot of money. What about the ordinary farmer who wants to do this kind of conservative farming, who makes sure that he conserves and does all of those things? How do you compensate them for that? Can you give me some really practical and concrete ways in which that kind of compensation can occur so that there can be ongoing stewardship?

Secondly, you talked about restoring a damaged ecosystem in a defined timeframe. How do you see that being measured, and what are the ways in which you can see penalties or other things being imposed if people don't do it in the defined timeframe?

Finally, you talked about measuring your natural assets. I think the precautionary principle in medicine we all agree with, and you're saying the same thing here, which is true. But you talked about measuring your natural assets. How do you do that, and what are the measurement instruments and indicators you would apply to measure that?

So those are my three basic questions.

I think it was you, Mr. Smith, who talked about forms of compensation. How do you see that occurring?

3:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Alberta Beef Producers

Rich Smith

You identified a very real challenge, in that there are often large-scale and specific initiatives that provide compensation for conservation. What we have generally lacked is a comprehensive system that provides compensation to a large number of what you suggest would be smaller-scale landowners, and a system that would work not in an either/or situation where you have a choice between production and conservation. We haven't had a comprehensive system that would provide compensation for conservation that was done in a complementary manner to agricultural production. There's a very real challenge for that.

Mr. Newton and Mr. Ward identified that society thinks that these benefits are free. Society doesn't realize there is a cost to them. We haven't established the kind of system that would work to make that happen.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

What are the elements you see in that kind of system? Obviously, refundable tax credits would be one. The ecological gifts program looks at capital gains. What are the other ones you see?

3:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Alberta Beef Producers

Rich Smith

Because these are societal benefits, we need to find a way to engage society in paying for these benefits. That would take both the ability to measure, and that's a complex scientific challenge but one that's not insurmountable, combined with a framework of policy, markets, and a system that would engage society. For now, society hasn't been engaged in paying for these benefits. That would be an important step that I would see.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

I think it was Mr. Gardner who talked about restoring an ecosystem if you have damaged it and restoring it within a defined timeframe. What do you see the defined timeframe as being?

3:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Southern Alberta Land Trust Society

Alan Gardner

That is a good question. Thank you very much for that.

There were three questions, I believe. If you wish, I can deal with all of them to some extent.

One question is the compensation for ecological services. We see this all the time. For example, there was a large corporation that was saying that it could buy huge amounts of land in Australia that had been totally ruined, and it could get credit to restore that land. We see that kind of thing all the time. There's a lot of money from government as well as corporations to be able to do that.

However, we also work in southern Alberta with a lot of stewards, as has been talked about, for example, by Mr. Sawyer, where we have good stewardship for what we call a good land ethic already. Yet when we as a land trust ask how we reward the people who have done a good job, we find that everybody says “Not us. We don't want to do that. We don't have any money for that.” It's a very real problem.

We have actually as a land trust developed a protocol for being able to do that. It touches on some of your other questions. One is the restoring, for example, in a defined timeframe. We all know that corporations and people who dig up the land, a gravel pit, the tar sands, an open pit mine, or whatever it may be, would prefer to put off restoration until the last minute, because in a sense, they are not carrying it on their balance sheet. They can say to their shareholders, “Look at the profit we're making.” That's perfectly fine, but if you want them to restore on a timely basis, that is, to restore as they go, especially in large-scale circumstances, then the best thing to do is to make them carry that liability of restoration on their balance sheet. Then their own shareholders and their accountants will be pushing them to get this stuff restored, because then they could get it off the liability side of their asset or balance sheet.

That would be a very good thing to look at within a national conservation plan as to how to do that. We will be extracting resources. The question is not whether we will, but how we restore afterwards.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Absolutely.

3:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Southern Alberta Land Trust Society

Alan Gardner

Your last question was a very good one.

We do a very poor job of measuring assets, as you pointed out. We measure GDP, and so on. Really, when you look at things, this is our income statement, if you like--how much money we are moving around the economy. We don't do a very good job of measuring the assets. As I indicated, when you have a house or another asset, that's the kind of thing that provides you with an ongoing value stream, which improves your standard of living. We really do a very poor job of measuring what happens when we extract resources, whether they are renewable or non-renewable resources, out of the landscape, and how we measure whether or not we're maintaining the asset value. It goes back to the question of stewardship. When somebody does a poor job of stewardship, then really, the asset level goes down. Multi-generational ranchers know this.

Anyway, going back to the land trust idea, this is something we have solutions for.

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Your time has expired. Thank you.

Monsieur Pilon.

3:25 p.m.

NDP

François Pilon NDP Laval—Les Îles, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I will continue with Mr. Gardner.

Generally speaking, do your ranchers have a good perception of your organization?

3:25 p.m.

Executive Director, Southern Alberta Land Trust Society

Alan Gardner

Yes. As a matter of fact, we have a number of ranchers on our board, actually more than half of the members. We have worked continuously since 1998, when we got going with the ranching family. I would say we are very well perceived by ranchers; in fact, they are our best friends in many cases. We understand their concerns and how to help them.

3:25 p.m.

NDP

François Pilon NDP Laval—Les Îles, QC

Should the plan target specific areas, or, as many seemed to say, focus more on the ecosystem?

3:25 p.m.

Executive Director, Southern Alberta Land Trust Society

Alan Gardner

In my submission I suggested seven aspects in relative priority. It's very much a holistic approach to things. When I say holistic, we have to be careful we don't get mired in superficialities. We have to go back to the science of things. This is where the work of Dr. Stelfox is really important in terms of cumulative effects and such. Yes, we do need a holistic approach to things.

3:25 p.m.

NDP

François Pilon NDP Laval—Les Îles, QC

To wrap up, you said in your presentation that it was important to provide for reclamation, restoring the land after it's been used. If something occurs during development, should the plan set out a method, something requiring that immediate action be taken to rectify any damage caused, given that it was not taken into account?

3:25 p.m.

Executive Director, Southern Alberta Land Trust Society

Alan Gardner

I think that time always makes changes as such. However, as Ms. Fry indicated, if you don't have a plan at the beginning, who knows how you're going to get there, or what happens when you actually get there.

It is very critical that some sort of restoration plan be in place at the beginning of a project. It may change as time goes on, but if you can have a plan upfront, at least everybody is aware of how it may happen. As I indicated, if it's on the balance sheet, there is a much greater incentive to restore as you go along, rather than wait until the last minute and then hopefully they will do it. Also, historically we know that in some cases, if the company runs into financial problems at the last minute, sometimes the restoration falls back on the public purse.

3:25 p.m.

NDP

François Pilon NDP Laval—Les Îles, QC

My next question is for Mr. Vandervalk.

You mentioned a new labour-free planting method, saying that 80% of farmers used it. Why aren't the other 20% on board?