Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New Cabinet Ministers, New Opportunities for Nature?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed his new cabinet today in what is the most extensive cabinet shuffle of the past few years. The most notable appointments in terms of their impact on nature conservation in Canada are:
  • Peter Kent continues as Minister of the Environment
  • John Duncan remains Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
  • Keith Ashfield becomes Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
  • Joe Oliver becomes Minister of Natural Resources
  • Peter MacKay remains Minister of Defence
  • Bev Oda continues as Minister of International Co-operation
  • Jim Flaherty remains Minister of Finance
  • Tony Clement moves to President of the Treasury Board
So why are all these Ministers particularly important for nature conservation in Canada? Here is a quick snapshot:

Environment: This Minister oversees Ministry of the Environment, the Parks Canada Agency,and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Responsibilities include protecting wildlife like endangered species and migratory birds, preserving natural areas like national parks and national wildlife areas, and preventing environmental disasters like oil spills and climate change. This Minister will have the opportunity to lead Canadian conservation.

Indian and Norther Affairs Canada: This department exerts control over land-use decisions in Canada's northern territories (Nunavut, NWT, and Yukon). This includes everything from the establishment of parks and other protected areas to proposals for offshore drilling proposed in our precious arctic.

Fisheries and Oceans: The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for much of what Canada does to conserve our oceans, lakes, and rivers. This includes establishing marine protected areas and protected aquatic species at risk. This is the Minister who can stop the growing practice of dumping mining waste into lakes and rivers.

Natural Resources Canada: This department leads federal policy on energy, mining, and forestry. With this comes an important role in the federal government's responsibility to protect wildlife, preserve natural areas, and prevent environmental disasters.

Defence: The Department of National Defence is one of the federal government's most significant land managers. This Minister will have to make some important decisions about activities that affect wildlife and natural ecosystems, most notably a proposal to drill more than a thousand gas wells in the National Wildlife Area located within Canadian Forces Base Suffield.

International Co-operation: Oversees the Canadian International Development Agency which, among other things, supports international development projects including some that benefit nature in the developing world, including our "Canadian" birds while they overwinter elsewhere in the Americas.

Finance: We have often said that the federal government's budget is one of its most important policy documents affecting conservation. It determines whether or not all the other departments have the resources they need to fulfill their conservation obligations.

Treasury Board: This is the "central agency" that controls the spending and performance of the other departments. This Minister plays a central role in managing the size of the federal public service. It will be important for this Minister to recognize the need for an appropriate workforce for the public service to fulfill the federal government's responsibilities to protect wildlife, preserve natural areas, prevent environmental disasters, and lead Canadian conservation.

Nature Canada congratulates all members of the new cabinet on their appointments. We look forward to working with the key Ministers and their staff to advance nature conservation in Canada.