Changes were announced to the proposed Biodiversity Act (Bill 4) on March 23, 2021. The changes remove sections that received the most backlash recently, fuelled by a province-wide misinformation and fear-mongering campaign against the Act, spearheaded by Forests Nova Scotia, the forestry industry lobby group. In response to this pressure the Province announced the removal of the sections which enabled the Province to create Biodiversity Emergency Orders, and removed the power to create offenses and fines under the Act (a standard section in Acts of this nature). The Province’s announcement also reconfirmed that Biodiversity Management Zones can only be designated on private land with landowner consent. The main focus of the Act remains committing the Province to work on biodiversity conservation and sustainable use in a proactive, collaborative way.
The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is already well underway in Nova Scotia, thanks to the initiative and leadership of individuals, groups, various levels of government, and the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia. Removing these sections of the Act doesn’t damage the good work that has already been done, or prevent future work. Like species in an ecosystem, each person and group working on biodiversity has a special niche – a unique set of characteristics they bring to the challenge. Sadly, removing much of the enforcement capabilities in the Act does take away one of the few things that only governments have the powers to do: create enforceable rules to be used in the rare circumstances that merit this approach.
It is disappointing to see the Act changed mid-process, days before another public input session called the Law Amendment Committee meeting. The long journey of this Act has been dogged by poor communication and public engagement led by Department of Lands & Forestry staff over the last few years. There has been public and stakeholder input along the way, during which time valid concerns and questions were brought up in a respectful way. Honoring that feedback and process means it is not time to go back to the drawing board on this piece of legislation. It would have improved the track record of this Act if proposed amendments had instead been presented and duly considered at the next step in the legislative process: the Law Amendments Committee hearings.
There remains much that is still constructive and worthwhile in the Act – a commitment to data collection and sharing though a regular State of Biodiversity report, and the potential for the Province to commence new programs focused on biodiversity education, research, and monitoring. Coordination among provincial departments on biodiversity efforts is still in there. And the Bill ensures public consultations on regulations flowing from the Act. Many of these commitments align with the recommendations that EAC and ECELAW have been making for more than two years about the essential elements of a Biodiversity Act for Nova Scotia.
Much of the great work done on biodiversity conservation in Nova Scotia so far is the result of partnerships and cooperation. Going forward, we hope that the Biodiversity Act will be passed, and that efforts that stem from it will based on working together in a good way, a respectful way, a way that often comes naturally to Nova Scotians.
Take action to support the Biodiversity Act:
1. To send a message to Nova Scotia MLAs voicing your support for the Biodiversity Act, click here.
2. The next step in the process of passing the Biodiversity Act is the Law Amendment Committee meetings. After Public Bills have received second reading in the House, the Standing Committee on Law Amendments gives them clause-by-clause consideration and hears representations from any interested persons or organizations. For more information on how you or your group can present to the Standing Committee on Law Amendments, click here!