COLUMN: Environment an all-important issue

Saturday Beat

How quickly we forget.

Prior to the 2008 general municipal election in Nanaimo, the environment was at the forefront of public and political concern.

Candidates were grilled on their environmental position, promises of reduced greenhouse gas emissions were made, better transit was to be introduced and green buildings were coming.

In a June 2008 editorial, this newspaper praised Nanaimo and Area Land Trust for deciding to host two all-candidates meetings revolving around the environment, calling the decision “brave” and “necessary.”

“Turning the environment into a strong local issue will not only bring to light important regional conversation on the environment,” it said, “it will force candidates to dig much deeper in explaining how the term ‘green’ and ‘sustainability’ are being addressed in the Nanaimo area.”

Three years and an economic collapse later, it seems the environment wasn’t very important after all.

At an all-candidates meeting held at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre on Nov. 3, the word “environment” was mentioned twice – once by Coun. Jim Kipp responding to a question regarding how to make the VICC profitable, and once by Coun. Diana Johnstone, who said preserving green spaces will help attract tourists.

Candidate Brunie Brunie circled environmentalism through an enthusiastic plea for better food security and urban agriculture, but not one of the 28 questions queried a politician about their position on the environment and aside from the above mentions, none offered any position.

Now, I’m in favour of economic development, the topic dominating the 2011 municipal election. I can literally visualize downtown Nanaimo as a thriving community with markets, shopping, arts and culture, and a lively nightlife. I can see condos filled with people coming and going, floatplanes and ferries transporting tourists to Nanaimo, and busy hotels and conference centre.

Hell, I can even see a multiplex (paid for with private dollars, of course) with WHL hockey in the winter and killer concerts in the summer. I haven’t been to a good concert in years.

I think we need to attack the high unemployment rate and provide good jobs and training so young families can stay and thrive here.

But we can’t forget the environment and the word – I’m sick of it, too – sustainability.

It seems once the going got a little rough, the environment was tossed out the window.

We panic easily.

Last time I checked, the environment was still a top priority in planNanaimo, the city’s official community plan. It sits as the fifth of seven priorities, actually.

It states: “Goal 5 – Protect and enhance our environment by looking after Nanaimo’s natural diversity of terrestrial, fresh water and marine ecosystems in the course of land use development. It means identifying, protecting and enhancing the ecological health of significant natural features and systems.”

It’s just as important today as it was three years ago. It will be just as important three years from now.

In pursuing economic development, a parallel environmental plan needs to accompany it every step of the way.

We want more people here? Fine. Where’s the study on our aquifers that proves our water tables can support it? Where is the push to preserve just as much parkland as we develop (Neck Point was a good start)? Where is the energy study that says we’ll be able to meet our energy needs and still meet reduction targets? When will we give our riparian areas, many of which are being re-established as salmon rearing, a break?

Sure, the economy is hurting, but if we ignore the environment, simply cast it aside, it only proves we haven’t learned a thing.