The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Before you click away, we have something to ask you…

Do you value independent journalism that focuses on the issues that matter? Do you think Canada needs more in-depth, fact-based reporting? So do we. If you’d like to be part of the solution, we’d love it if you joined us in working on it.

The Tyee is an independent, paywall-free, reader-funded publication. While many other newsrooms are getting smaller or shutting down altogether, we’re bucking the trend and growing, while still keeping our articles free and open for everyone to read.

The reason why we’re able to grow and do more, and focus on quality reporting, is because our readers support us in doing that. Over 5,000 Tyee readers chip in to fund our newsroom on a monthly basis, and that supports our rockstar team of dedicated journalists.

Join a community of people who are helping to build a better journalism ecosystem. You pick the amount you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis, and you can cancel any time.

Help us make Canadian media better by joining Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.

Missing from Canada's Political Debate: Natural Security

25-year review of Canada's eco-stewardship reveals neglect across party stripes.

By Chris Wood 3 Jun 2015 | Tyee Solutions Society

Chris Wood, author of Down the Drain: How We Are Failing to Protect Our Water Resources and Dry Spring: The Coming Water Crisis of North America, is co-ordinating editor for Tyee Solutions Society.

Canada's prime minister is pre-campaigning with a strong-on-security message. His government is taking measures designed, among other goals, to protect energy infrastructure from what the RCMP has called "violent environmental extremists."

As I write, enormous forest fires burning out of control across northern Alberta have done what no activist has accomplished: forced the suspension of oilsands operations.

These events capture a dimension missing from Canada's security debate: our natural security.

Our natural security is physical. It provides the stable, productive environment that has allowed Canada to prosper. In the form of fields and lakes and forests, and in global exchanges of water and energy, natural security underwrites our economy, our health and our ability to maintain the institutions that serve and protect us.

Every one of Canada's governments since 1989, including the present one, has expressed strong environmental principles and enacted impressive legislation to protect vulnerable species, defend Canadians against pollution and prevent development from devastating critical ecosystems.

Despite those laws, audits and independent assessments persistently warn us that our natural security is degraded, failing and increasingly undefended. And that should concern Canadians of all political stripes.

The wide gap between our aspirations and actions confronted me again and again as I sought an answer to an apparently straightforward question: "How well has Canada cared for our environment -- really?"

The year-long search was commissioned by Tyee Solutions Society, an independent journalism production centre started by the founders of this publication and donor-supported. It collated events, laws, international developments and a wide range of public audits and independent assessments over a period in which five prime ministers from three parties occupied 24 Sussex Drive. All of that information is now available and searchable online.

A short answer

For a more complete answer to the question of how we've cared for Canada's environment over that time, visit Bottom Lines: A Quarter-century Report on Our Natural Security.

But the short answer is this: Not well at all.

Over the 25 years from 1989 to 2014, state-of-the-art laws to protect the safety of air and water and critical natural systems, have never been fully implemented or effectively enforced. Many of the goals set in legislation or treaty commitments remain unmet.

Twenty-five years ago, Canada lacked mandatory standards for air and water quality to match those then in place for over a decade in the United States. We still lack them.

The consequences of multi-partisan neglect are now becoming apparent.

Air and water quality and toxic chemical threats were at the top of Canadians' environmental concerns in polls conducted in 1989. They remain so. On that score, ground smog is a bright spot: it has widely declined. Most provinces tightened their rules after farm waste contaminated water taps on Walkerton, Ont., killing seven and sending scores to the hospital.

Missing babies

But new and more elusive chemical threats have replaced older biological ones in our water. Sampling reveals scores of pharmaceutical residues in every Canadian river, wetland and drinking water reservoir tested from coast to coast. Of 23,000 "chemicals of concern" in daily use in Canada, information on the toxicity of nearly nine out of 10 is simply missing, the Council of Canadian Academies warned in 2012.

Meanwhile, doctors observe an ongoing decline in the number of Canadian boys being born in comparison to girls -- equivalent to about 800 "missing" baby boys a year by 2010. Genital defects and cancers of the reproductive system are also on the rise.

Many supposedly protected species are also at greater risk today than they were in 1989. "Dead zones" are appearing in our lakes and off our coasts. Toxic mercury is accumulating in the Arctic and a buffet of airborne petro-chemical byproducts is settling on everything downwind from the tarsand region. Commercial ocean fish stocks have collapsed, and the fish remaining are on average smaller.

The federal government hasn't enforced many of its own environmental rules since the 1980s -- as a matter of policy. The 1989 Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) further expanded the scope for Ottawa to wash its hands of enforcement. In 1990, the federal auditor general found "a serious deterioration in compliance" wherever this was tried. Nonetheless every government since has followed the same practice.

Of the regulations that Ottawa didn't turn over to provinces, it enforced fewer than half, the environment commissioner found in 2011. Although Environment Canada had added 68 enforcement positions after 2007, the number of inspections it conducted had actually dropped.

The price of neglect

In standing down our environmental defences, we're leaving our biological security vulnerable and losing iconic creatures and places forever. We're also losing real money.

The price we pay when natural security breaks down is high -- and rising. Calgary's $4.8 billion 2013 downtown flood was that city's most expensive civic disaster ever.

Damage to the town of Cache Creek, B.C., probably won't run into the billions. But its citizens know what it feels like when their natural security fails.

It should be part of our wider discussion about leadership on security.

Stay tuned for an excerpt of the Bottom Lines quarter-century archive, running tomorrow, June 4 on The Tyee.  [Tyee]


Bottom Lines is a donor-funded archive of Canada's ecological stewardship over 25 years. The project asked a deceptively simple question: Cutting through all partisan rhetoric, how well has Canada cared for its environment, really?

The result is a 'just the facts ma'am' record of the best answers we could find. TSS editor Chris Wood spent a year combing the most reliable publicly available sources: government documents, scientific papers, reports from independent international bodies, leading research and think-tank organizations. The search produced hundreds of individual records, across six environmental dimensions.

This project was produced by the Tyee Solutions Society with generous support from Gencon Foundation. Browse the Bottom Lines microsite here, or search the full data set here.

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free


The Barometer

Tyee Poll: Are You Preparing for the Next Climate Disaster?

Take this week's poll