The road to you-know-where is paved with good intentions. Unfortunately, we conservationists have headed down that road a few times too many in recent years.
Take for example Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, hailed by almost everyone as the gold standard for Canada when it was passed in 2007. I have no doubt that our MPPs had the best of intentions when they voted in favour of the law. Yet, since it was passed, Ontario Nature and others have had to fight tooth and nail to hold the government to its commitment. This has culminated in us suing the government after it severely weakened protection standards – a matter that has been before the courts since 2013 and will be heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal on April 19, 2016.
Or take Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy, shepherded by the Ontario Biodiversity Council which represents government, stakeholders and Aboriginal organizations. In place since 2005, the strategy expresses the best of intentions to conserve biodiversity, endorsed by all. Yet last year the council’s status report revealed that we failed to meet almost all of our 2015 targets, and are on track for a similarly miserable result in 2020.
I can understand the cynicism of some of the veterans in the conservation movement.
But hope springs eternal in the human breast. And so we turn our attention to new initiatives such as Ontario’s draft Pollinator Health Action Plan.
The government is now consulting the public on the plan. Again, good intentions abound. Strategic outcomes include resilient, abundant and diverse populations of pollinators as well as abundant and healthy pollinator habitats. Proposed actions include habitat creation on public and private lands, broad-scale public awareness and education campaigns, research, and monitoring.
This is just what the doctor ordered. And yet, where are the specific targets and timelines? Where are government responsibilities spelled out? Where are the budget allocations to cover the work that needs to be done by each relevant ministry? Not in the 2016 budget.
Serious problems demand serious commitments, and there’s no doubt that pollinator decline is a serious problem. According to a UN report released last week, of the tens of thousands of insect pollinator species around the world, 40 percent are facing extinction.
I do not want to be cynical – and I am not yet. But I am painfully wary. I am looking for clarity and assurance from the government that this time it will actually invest in an effective plan so that good intentions will be realized.
Steve Hounsell, chair of the Ontario Biodiversity Council, has described Ontario as strategy rich and implementation poor. That means a lot of time wasted by well-intentioned people.
It is time to get off the road to you-know-where and find a more promising path. The Pollinator Health Action Plan is a good place to begin. Please add your voice to those who are looking for more than good intentions.
Dr. Anne Bell has been directing Ontario Nature’s conservation and education programs since 2007.