Hello, my name is Priscilla Gareau. I have a doctorate in environmental studies and I am the director of the environmental group Ambioterra.
We are very grateful for this opportunity to contribute to the debate on the conservation and protection of biodiversity in Canada.
Ambioterra is a not-for-profit charity organization. The board of directors is elected by the members. We work in the south of Quebec, more specifically in certain sub-watersheds of the Châteauguay River, which is part of the Upper St. Lawrence Valley or the St. Lawrence Plain.
We are also a member of Quebec's Club and Small Percidae Recovery Team. As I was saying, we work in the south of Quebec where the highest level of biodiversity is found. It's like Ontario, in fact. The two regions are similarly rich in biodiversity. Unfortunately, these are also areas where there is the most urbanization and farming. It is often in these areas where the risks are greatest, compared to the north of Quebec.
Another unique feature of our territory is that 95% of it is privately owned. There is practically no publicly owned land. This is why we mostly work together with private landowners. This territory is compartmentalized, making biodiversity protection even more difficult. Moreover, there are many landowners, and they are not as well informed as the federal, provincial and municipal authorities. Clearly, these authorities are better informed on endangered species and biodiversity since they are the policy-makers.
This leads me to our first recommendation. It reads as follows:
That the national conservation plan put a particular emphasis on the methods, programs and tax incentives necessary to encourage landowners to protect habitat, biodiversity, and especially species at risk.
The landowners are very open. Given that we receive most of our funding from the federal and provincial governments, particularly through the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk and the program Partenaires pour la nature. This allows us to advise the landowners and update them on the federal and provincial initiatives that help them protect their natural heritage. Of course, if they had to pay for such consultations, the natural heritage would not be protected. They have neither the necessary means nor the expertise.
To carry out our projects, we use the ecosystem approach which Environment Canada has been promoting since the 1990s along with a number of researchers. This approach requires that interventions and policies be thought out taking into account the spatial and temporal skills of the characteristics of natural components. I will explain this concept to you in more concrete terms. We, the human beings, establish the regions in an administrative fashion. Each region is considered a unit of territory. However, the watershed of the Châteauguay that I referred to is considered to be in another category. In the case of this watershed, the federal and provincial governments as well as a number of regional county municipalities and the municipalities intervene. Currently, policies often do not take into account the natural components.
For example, the regional county municipalities are in charge of the waterway development plans. However, the regional county municipality (RCM) that is downstream must deal with the consequences of activities carried out by the RCM that is upstream. The downstream RCM must pay the price for any harmful activities carries out by the upstream RCM. That is why we devise our plans according to the watershed as a unit of territory.
In any case, the federal government has implemented a number of examples of the ecosystem approach, for example the St. Lawrence Action Plan, the priority intervention zones and the Great Lakes projects, which date back almost 30 years.
I suspect that a previous speaker has already defined what a watershed is. Basically, it is not just the waterway itself, it is also all of the land and waters that drain into it. For example, because the St. Lawrence River is massive and covers almost all of Quebec, it cannot be studied as one watershed. It has to be subdivided. Terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems are inseparable, as they are in constant interaction.
This leads us to our second recommendation:
That the national conservation plan include measures to protect not only terrestrial areas, but also aquatic areas, both freshwater and marine.
We work with most of the stakeholders in our area. As I mentioned, a number of federal departments are involved, such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Agriculture Canada and Environment Canada. It's the same thing at the provincial level.
However, we find in the field that the third level of government, the municipal level, is not very familiar with provincial and federal policies. So there is a lack of communication among the three levels of government. In our opinion, it is important to bring the municipal level more on board. For example, the municipalities are completely unaware of the existence of the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk developed by the federal government, under the auspices of COSEWIC, and do not incorporate it into their land management plan.
As a small local and regional group, we can try to advocate, but it is quite difficult, given our limited means. As I already said, private property owners are completely unaware of existing policies and how they could benefit from them, including through their taxes, if they protected their natural heritage.
The municipalities wield tremendous power over land use, at least in Quebec. I suspect it's the same for the other provinces, though the names of the planning tools may vary. Quebec has established development plans for the regional county municipalities and land use plans that the municipalities have to take into account. Unfortunately, a small municipality of little means and no budget may only be able to afford an inspector one day a week. Clearly, that inspector will not be able to do many inspections to enforce the rules and policies.
This brings us to our third recommendation:
That the national plan grants a larger place to municipal entities, as was adopted at the COP10 of the Convention on Biological Diversity [...] which specifies that efforts must be made to increase the involvement of municipal authorities in the protection of biodiversity. In this context, it would be appropriate to review the financing of the Green Municipal Fund (Federation of Canadian Municipalities) so as to develop a specific program for the protection of biodiversity.
This is just one of many examples.
In August 2012, Environment Canada introduced the biodiversity goals and targets stemming from the Aichi Strategic Plan, adopted by the signatory countries of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Note that on page 8, goal A includes Canada's waters, thereby reinforcing our previous position in favour of the inclusion of bodies of water in a national conservation plan.
It is not our intention to review each of the biodiversity goals and targets identified by the Government of Canada. However, it seems to us that certain of them should be clarified, made more binding, and incorporated in a more specific implementation schedule.
This brings us to our fourth recommendation:
That the national conservation plan clarify its goals, objectives, targets, results indicators and allotted budget, incorporating them in a predetermined implementation schedule, so that everything is grounded in the rules of result-based management as promoted by the Government of Canada for its grant recipients. [...]
In order to run a program properly, we ourselves should have a schedule that sets out our goals and means, our results, our deadlines and our allotted budgets.
[...] Furthermore, everything should be based on the current state of scientific knowledge and on an ecosystem approach, including the precautionary principle.
Lastly, we are convinced that the voluntary approach is necessary and beneficial, and we use it every day. However, we are also convinced that enforcement is complementary to the voluntary approach. Unfortunately, there will always be certain stakeholders who do not want to participate voluntarily in habitat protection. It is therefore clear that without the enforcement of legislation governing destructive practices, the deterioration of Canada's natural environments will continue.
Note that harmonization is important. Each level of government must enforce regulations. Take, for example, a farmer who complies with the regulations, but whose neighbour does not. When we make contact, that farmer is going to ask us what good it does to protect the environment and comply with the regulations if the neighbour does not, and the authorities do not enforce the regulations. That is extremely important.
This brings us to our fifth recommendation:
That the national legislative framework for the protection and conservation of natural environments and species at risk be maintained and improved. An assessment of the application of laws and regulations by the various parties involved in biodiversity protection is necessary in order to identify the points requiring improvement.
I am going to conclude my presentation by sharing with you our final recommendations, without any contextual information, because I have already gone over my time limit.
That funding programs for the protection of habitat and biodiversity, such as the Habitat Stewardship Program, be maintained and improved.
That responses to funding applications be sent out no more than 5 months after the applications are filed, i.e., in April of each year, out of consideration for the intrinsic characteristics of the work related to collection of conservation data, which has to be conducted mainly in the spring and summer.
That in the interest of transparency, letters denying applications for funding that are sent out by Environment Canada specify the criteria and the scoring for each of those criteria which were responsible for the decision made.
That summarizes our positions.
We commend the work of the committee and thank you for your attention.