Review: My Land

The Lake Erie water snake can dive ten feet and swallow its prey head first. The snake is also endangered. Its favoured habitat is private lakefront property where landowners don’t enjoy snakes. “I see no reason why it should be protected,” one Pelee Island landowner told an interviewer. “If it were to go away, I don’t think anyone would miss it.”

This is the most vexing part of endangered species. Rare birds, fish and wildlife belong to all humanity, but the lakefronts and marshlands belong to ratepayers. As the Canadian Cattleman’s Association once told a Commons committee, “Number one: if a species at risk is viewed as a liability to a land manager, it will always be at risk.”

Prof. Andrea Olive of the University of Toronto examines this conflict in Land, Stewardship and Legitimacy. The results are intriguing. Olive discovers Canadians have a generally positive opinion of saving threatened species, but aren’t quite sure what to do about it; 61 percent of Saskatchewan residents agreed it would be unfair to ask landowners to pay the cost of protecting species that happen to nest, stalk or swim on their property.

“In Canada most land is privately managed,” writes Olive; “This is the consequence of history – of pioneers who were encouraged by government to settle two vast countries. The result today is that most biodiversity relies on private property, and on the people who own and manage it, for survival.”

Land, Stewardship and Legitimacy seeks solutions. Should we pay landowners not to kill water snakes? “Expensive,” Olive notes. Might shaming work? Maybe; the author recounts a 1982 study on the impact of anti-littering ads in Oklahoma City. Residents were twice as likely to feel guilty about littering, especially if the neighbours saw them doing it: “If outreach and education are able to inform enough people about the importance of biodiversity,” writes Olive, “then shaming people into conservation efforts might be a method to achieve changes in desired public behaviour.”

Land, Stewardship and Legitimacy recounts the fate of select endangered species including the Lake Erie snake; the Indiana brown bat; and Utah desert tortoise. Canada was an early signatory to the U.N. Convention On Biological Diversity in 1993, but Olive writes there’s no particular reason to feel superior.

More than 90 percent of southern Ontario’s Carolinian forests have been converted to farms or suburbs; British Columbia is home to almost two thousand threatened or endangered species; Alberta, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island have no actual, legally binding endangered species legislation.

So, if it is too much to offer tax breaks to save water snakes, and too mean to punish landowners who are indifferent, Prof. Oliver proposes something in the middle. Canadians must first be shown that species are at risk, and very simple steps might save creatures that thrived for generations: “That will take some work.”

By Holly Doan

Land, Stewardship and Legitimacy: Endangered Species Policy in Canada and the United States, by Andrea Olive; University of Toronto Press; ISBN 9781-4426-15748; 304 pages; $32.95

News Handouts Cost $2.5M

The Department of Public Works yesterday approved a $2.5 million contract to distribute federally-sponsored “news” to publishers and radio stations. Handout stories include one saying its “nice” to fly with cannabis in your luggage, and articles citing a Health Canada endorsement of vaping: “There are short-term general health improvements…”

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Say Senate Staff Overworked

Senate managers yesterday complained they work too hard after calculating three executives clocked the equivalent of a 52-hour week. “Too much is definitely not good,” said Senator Lucie Moncion (Independent-Ont.), chair of a Senate subcommittee on budgets: “It is not good for their health.”

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Tories To Elect New Leader

Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer yesterday said he will not contest another national campaign, calling it the “best thing” for the Party. Scheer is only the third federal Conservative chief in 79 years to resign after winning a leadership convention and losing a general election: “Politics is tough.”

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Senate Eyes China Sanctions

The Senate yesterday opened debate on a motion to impose sanctions on any Chinese authority responsible for human rights abuses overseas. “The time for appeasement is over,” said Senator Leo Housakos (Conservative-Que.), sponsor of the motion: “Ask yourself, are you a defender of those values?”

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Christmas Rush On NAFTA

MPs yesterday clamoured for the text of a free trade pact amid growing opposition over aluminum imports. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters he wanted the latest NAFTA ratified quickly, though Parliament is scheduled to adjourn tomorrow for its Christmas break: “We’re being asked how we are going to vote and we haven’t seen the text.”

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Prov. Pot Revenue At $640M

Provinces have collected two-thirds of a billion dollars in marijuana taxes and profits since Parliament legalized recreational cannabis last year, by official estimate. Statistics Canada said a typical Canadian now lives within a short drive of a licensed narcotics dealer: ‘45% are within ten kilometres of a cannabis store.’

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Would Target Senate Tories

Senate Liberal appointees yesterday introduced a motion to strip Conservative lawmakers of status as Official Opposition in the chamber. Cabinet earlier served notice it will also attempt to ban Senate filibusters by Conservatives: “I want to be very clear on what the problem is.”

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Gov’t Loses Key Vote 171-148

Liberals last night suffered their first defeat in the minority Parliament as MPs voted 171 to 148 for a Conservative motion to investigate human rights abuses in China. The motion was cast as an expression of no confidence in the Prime Minister, who will be summoned for questioning at televised hearings: “We have had serious concerns with the Prime Minister’s ability.”

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Motion To Shun Ex-Senator

The Senate yesterday agreed to consider a motion for a rare, symbolic shunning of former legislator Don Meredith. The ex-senator would be stripped of the “honourable” title for life: ‘It’s to preserve the authority, dignity and reputation of the Senate.’

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StatsCan Bent Rules: Report

Statistics Canada bent the rules in attempting to scoop banking data on some 1.5 million people, Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said yesterday. The project was suspended in 2018 following a public outcry: “The project would have exceeded Statistics Canada’s legal authority.”

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Bill Federalizes Bldg Permits

A bill yesterday introduced in the Senate would give federal regulators sweeping new powers to limit commercial redevelopment near Parliament Hill. The bill follows protests after Ottawa councillors approved an addition to the famed 1912 Chateau Laurier hotel that one senator likened to a pile of shipping containers: ‘No wild development around Parliament Hill.’

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