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Policy choices, budgetary constraints and the Conservative government move to decline continued funding of the Canadian Environmental Network (@RCEN)

Protest against the proposed KeystoneXL tar sands pipeline

photo credit: Fibonacci Blue

While as a scholar of policy analysis I’m fond of governmental budget cuts that are justified (e.g. in the case of bulging government spending on non-priority issues). But I can’t help but find Environment Canada’s non-renewal of a long-standing funding partnership with the Canadian Environmental Network (RCEN) rather perplexing. I can’t see the justification to cut funding to organizations aimed at building stronger networks of activists, scholars and that aims to reach out to the general public.

That this Canadian government is not making the best choices to protect Canada’s environment is neither a surprise nor an unknown issue. Environment Canada (and Stephen Harper himself) have been heavily criticized by numerous Canadian environmental policy scholars (myself included). Environmental policy decisions in Canada at this time are not smart. Let’s just remember the specific case of asbestos and Canada’s active lobbying to have chrysotile asbestos not included in the Rotterdam Convention) for just but one example.

My research has found that environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) can have very positive impact in domestic and global environmental policy making. All reservations made of course, but at least the ENGOs I have studied have had some very positive effects. The Canadian Environmental Network facilitates networking and coalition building across some 600 non-profit organizations aimed at protecting the environment. If a democratic government’s policy objectives (as per Theodore Lowi and Guy Peters) are to provide public services in the best interest of their constituency, one would think that the Federal government would want to continue or even increase RCEN’s funding.

Cutting travel expenses of high-level government officials and bureaucrats? I’m all for it. Cutting unnecessary expenses? Absolutely. Cutting funding to the Canadian Environmental Network does not rank high in my policy priorities for this country (and possibly for nobody else with 2 cents of common sense).

As an academic, I find myself almost always torn. When I see stupid policy decisions, I feel the need to become more of an activist. My research informs the decisions of policy makers at the local and global scales. Yet, sometimes even when the evidence points out to specific, smarter policy choices, governments still take a different policy trajectory. Political considerations, budgetary constraints, and a myriad other elements factor in how governments decide and implement policy. Yet I can’t stop myself when I foresee that a particular decision will have negative effects, particularly in the environmental field.

In a democratic society, the public demands to have a voice in policy decisions that affect their welfare. If we consider that civil society (ENGOs) work towards protecting the public’s best interest, one would think the government would consider continuing funding of an organization such as RCEN, which helps build these networks of activists. Apparently, that’s not an important issue in this government’s environmental policy agenda. And that’s disappointing.

There is a petition circulating in several list-serves (including a number of academic forums) to ask the Canadian government to continue funding RCEN. Only time will tell if said petition will be successful.

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Posted in bridging academia and practice, public participation.

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