Ecology experts and environmentalists say amendments made to the Nova Scotia Biodiversity Act rob it of any ability to enforce the environmental protection measures it aims to implement across the province.
Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin defended the cuts to the Biodiversity Act or Bill 4, which has been widdled down to 10 pages, half the size of the bill that was tabled earlier this month.
Those proposed changes to the act were made public Monday morning just prior to the law amendments committee, where a public debate was scheduled with 40 presenters set to speak on the bill.
PC lands and forestry critic Tory Rushton sits on the committee and says the province needs a biodiversity act but says Bill 4 has lacked proper public consultation all the way through its development, saying the latest amendments should’ve been made public well before the debate session got underway Monday morning.
“We called on the government to put their amendments in right away or pull the act, and re-write the act and re-present it,” said Rushton, the PC MLA for Cumberland South. “That would give the public a better understanding of what the amendments would look like and what the new act would look like.”
Rankin said the amendments don’t change the ability of the bill to protect the ecosystem.
“The bill is in a good place right now, it’s the first in North America,” said Rankin.
The Ecology Action Centre presented at the law amendments committee and said the organization supports Bill 4 but says the removal of any enforcement aspects guts the bill of any regulatory power.
“One of the only things that government can do that you and I can’t (is) create fines and offences,” said Karen Mckendry, a wilderness outreach co-ordinator and biologist with the EAC. “The enforcement thing is rare but needed and they (government) are only the ones capable of doing it.”
Rankin said the changes to the Biodiversity Act represent feedback and discussions he’s had with provincial stakeholders and private landowners but stressed that the amendments weren’t implemented because of industry pressure.
“Listening to the concerns of my caucus members who have been speaking to their constituents contributed to these changes,” Rankin said in a statement. “It is so critical for us to find a path together to address threats and create opportunities for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in Nova Scotia.”
The amendments removed entire sections of the Biodiversity Act that dealing with enforcement, emergency orders, conservation officers and other personnel, along with the removal of offences and fines.
Rankin said there was too much uncertainty around those sections and says enforcement was always an afterthought and only used in case of an emergency.
“I do believe that most of them (private landowners) want to do their best to protect the environment,” said Rankin.
The Biodiversity Act was initially tabled in 2019 when Rankin was the minister of lands and forestry. He championed the act at the time and made it a campaign priority in his bid to win the Liberal Party’s leadership race and replace Stephen McNeil as premier.
In a statement in 2019, Rankin said there’s a need for legislation to include regulatory powers given to the government to protect and conserve the environment.
“Nova Scotia does not have the authority it needs to manage a range of challenges and opportunities facing biodiversity,” he said. “This legislation sets the stage for new regulatory powers to better conserve and make sustainable use of our biodiversity.”
Rankin said the Biodiversity Act is mandated to be reviewed in five years.