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Alberta’s government has tipped over from defending its jurisdiction to chronic whining.

Last week Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz put out a thunderous declaration that the federal government’s new nature strategy is unconstitutional.

As everyone living in Alberta knows by now – pretty much everything the federal Liberals propose is unconstitutional and violates provincial rights according to the United Conservative Party government.

The UCP is not having any of that namby-pamby co-operative federalism. Every federal initiative has to be fought out in angry declarations or court.

So the federal nature strategy, and the Nature Accountability Act federal Environment Minister Steven Guibeault tabled on June 12, just provoked the heck out of Schulz.

The fate of species at risk, shocking decline in wildlife habitat, protection of wild rivers and boreal lands apparently are, in the sovereign domain of Alberta, provincial concerns.

There’s more than just a little of the Old Testament idea of mankind having dominion over all creation in the Schulz press release.

Albertans – including communities, Indigenous people, farmers, ranchers, hunters, resource workers and stewards of our beautiful province – will decide how to best manage provincial lands,” declares Schulz.

The Alberta minister hints she is speaking for all provinces.

“This report is yet another example of Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault blatantly ignoring the Canadian constitution and pretending to engage with provinces to carry out his radical, ideological agenda.”

Except there’s a bit more to the story.

The strategy grows out of COP 15 and The Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework which espouses targets such as conserving 30 per cent of land, water and seas, reversing degradation of habitat, stopping introduction of invasive species, preventing species from going extinct, increasing green spaces and reducing pollution.

In short, the framework, which Canada signed on to in 2022, strives for common sense sustainability in government policy-making to improve biodiversity.

The development of that national nature strategy has not been a unilateral federal Liberal initiative.

At the end of May 2023, provincial environment ministers met with Guibeault to begin hammering out the strategy.

“Ministers agreed that implementing the new biodiversity targets and objectives will require meaningful collaboration among all levels of governments, including federal, provincial, territorial, and Indigenous governments and organizations,” declared the talking points at the end of the meeting.

“Following the launch of federal consultations on Canadas 2030 National Biodiversity Strategy earlier this month, Ministers agreed to collaborate in the coming year to develop the Strategy, building on over 25 years of collaboration since they jointly endorsed Canadas first Biodiversity Strategy in 1995.”

So – there has apparently been a national biodiversity strategy since 1995 and provincial ministers signed on to help devise the current version of it.

Except – Alberta wasn’t at that May 2023 meeting. There was a provincial election going on and apparently nobody was available to attend the session.  (Quebec also didn’t sign, although its minister attended as an observer and committed to develop a similar provincial strategy.)

Guilbeault, who has battled it out in past with Alberta, is obviously aware of the extreme sensitivities around environmental issues which could potentially affect economic development.

The nature strategy and the act both explicitly mention provincial consultation and input.

The issue of the constitutional division of powers regarding the environment is a thorny one. The whole carbon tax battle, which the feds won in the Supreme Court, didnt really clarify all that much. Federal actions which might impact economic activity within provincial borders are  a different kettle of fish.

While environment and land management in general appears to fall into provincial jurisdiction in the constitution, several aspects of wildlife control, such as migratory birds and aquatic wildlife, fall into the federal purview. Biodiversity, that all-encompassing term in the middle, doesn’t get an explicit mention in the constitution.

At some point doesn’t it make sense to step back and look at what makes common sense?

Habitat doesn’t stop at borders. Species at risk can’t tell the difference between B.C. and Alberta. That’s why these really big environmental challenges are the subject of global initiatives and agreements in the first place.

Living in harmony with nature and conserving the natural bounty we already have would seem an overarching moral and ethical thing to do.

Isn’t it time the Alberta government climbs down off its parochial horse for the greater good?

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