MUSKOKA - A small news story appeared last week that was lost in the back pages of the only newspaper that picked it up. The report detailed a speech made by the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, Tim Hudak that made several alarming statements including this one: “Government should be protecting jobs more than turtles, birds and snakes.” Unfortunately, this little off-handed comment belies a much greater problem and uncovers an attitude that is shared by far too many people. The suggestion made is that it is economically problematic to concern ourselves with the protection of vulnerable species and by extension, our environment.
The logic being espoused by Hudak is that you have to make a choice between a healthy environment with biodiversity or jobs. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As Hudak points out, the number of endangered species in the province has jumped from 19 in 2003 to over 121 in 2013. Shockingly, this is used as a point in favour of scrapping the Endangered Species Act, as it is suggested that the regulations are what is leading to the massive increase in endangered species rather than an actual problem with the health of our natural environment.
It seems a clear case of blame the victim and it is especially troubling when, in this case, the victims are birds, mammal and reptiles that have no defence against verbal attacks.
The fact is there is an increase in the number of species on the endangered list because our environment is increasingly being compromised, leading to a severe decline in the numbers of a long list of species.
The number of species declared endangered should lead to an obvious call to strengthen the act, rather than get rid of it.
Turtles, frogs and birds live in the same environment we do. When they start to disappear and die off, it is a clear warning that something is wrong and that we are probably next.
On top of that, Hudak perhaps needs to be reminded of a simple fact that extinction is forever. Once a species is gone, they never return again and if the destruction of habitat creates a temporary job, how can that possibly be considered to be more important than the extinguishing of an entire species? It is just insane to even suggest such a thing.
It is especially frustrating when so many of the communities that this kind of rash decision would claim to benefit, namely those in rural areas and the north, actually rely on their natural environment for a good chunk of their current and future economic activity. Tourists, from kayakers to anglers to hunters invest a significant amount of dollars in communities that feature healthy natural environments.
It may be true that there would be initial opportunities provided by declaring an open season on our ecological heritage through the gutting of protective legislation, but those jobs and influxes would be short lived. The simple fact is that once you clear-cut a forest, it is gone forever and once you pollute a lake or destroy a habitat, you have condemned future generations to a world where they will never experience or benefit from those resources.
This doesn’t even get into the valid argument that it is completely irresponsible and arrogant of the human species to be passing judgement or making decisions that will eliminate other species on this planet. What right to do we have to make these kinds of evolutionary decisions and how can we possibly think that they make sense.
The concept that our only choice to have a healthy economy is to make it easier to exploit the environment is short sighted and out-dated. The fact that it is even being debated should make us question our own values and our commitment to the future.
We need long-term, responsible vision rather than self-serving rhetoric.