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Fact-checking Stephen Harper's environmental record

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The claim: "The Government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made the conservation of Canada's natural environment a top priority."

On Friday, Sept. 4, Stephen Harper unveiled his government's plans to protect the natural environment. The plan focuses on improvements to policies for hunting, fishing and snowmobiling.

The Conservatives will protect and conserve the natural environment by requiring first-time gun owners to take special classes, funding advertising campaigns to attract American tourists to Canada to hunt, fish or snowmobile and creating a program that improves habitats "for species harvested by hunters and trappers." 

The Conservatives would also offer a new kind of hunting permit so that immediate family members can share the same permit when they go out to hunt migratory birds together. And, they would permit the use of crossbows. While legal in most parts of Canada, though subject to various regulations, crossbows aren't legal in Yukon, the site of the announcement.

It's an understatement to say that Harper's environmental record hasn't been very good. The Conservatives removed centuries-old protections from nearly all Canadian waters. The Council of Canadians found that 89 per cent of the remaining protected lakes and rivers are in currently held Conservative ridings.

Hunting and fishing has become harder for the communities that hunt and fish for their food and livelihoods. For example, communities directly impacted by the tar sands development have had to abandon fishing due to the deformities and disease found in the fish in the Athabasca River, and hunting and trapping has been made impossible. Incidentally, these communities also have extremely high levels of rare cancers.

In Ontario, Grassy Narrows First Nation had to go before the Supreme Court to try and stop clear-cutting that has decimated the local moose population. The community is one of the few in Canada whose water is so toxic that not even boiling water renders it drinkable, and unemployment is around 80 per cent. They declared a state of emergency on August 27.

And, even when governments commit to conservation while continuing to encourage resource extraction, animal populations still suffer. Along Little Smoky River east of Grande Cache in Alberta, logging and drilling has hurt local caribou herds and threatened traplines, even in places where industry has agreed to not touch.

There have been dozens of major oil spills during the past decade of Conservative rule too, including at least five in Alberta and spills in English Bay, Shoal Point, Thunder Bay, Gogama, North Bay, Toronto, Lévis and of course, Lac-Mégantic, where 48 people died and the entire downtown was levelled. Oil spills kill local wildlife.

It's a huge stretch to claim Harper's promises will do anything to conserve Canada's natural environment. Without commitments to slow resource extraction and aid for communities who can no longer hunt, fish or trap, the concept of conservation is a meaningless buzzword. 



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