In This Issue
U of G Gets Stronger Voice on Environment
New campus institute to connect environmental research, policy
BY ANDREW VOWLES
|Former federal environment minister David Anderson plans to help the University take on a stronger role in environmental policy-making. Photo by Ross Davidson-Pilon|
Enhancing the University's leading role in environmental sciences research, teaching and policy support is the goal of a new initiative that will see a major environmental institute launched on campus this month.
The Guelph Institute for the Environment (GIE), to be headed part time by former federal environment minister David Anderson, will help connect University research with policy-makers at all three levels of government, says Prof. Stew Hilts, chair of the Department of Land Resource Science and acting associate dean of the Faculty of Environmental Sciences (FES).
The institute will be launched Feb. 28 and will reside administratively in FES.
Hilts says the GIE will help launch discussions about environmental issues with the city and region, establish ties with non-governmental organizations and spark public discussion of policy issues, perhaps through establishment of a regular environmental forum.
Locally, the institute might help U of G researchers explore ideas for joint environmental studies with City of Guelph officials or area conservation authorities on such topics as land-use planning, water resources management, waste management and community development. The new body is also intended to help feed U of G environmental research into policy development at the provincial, national and international levels.
Referring to such challenges as climate change, loss of species diversity and land-use planning, Hilts says: “Environmental science is applied science. We've got problems to deal with.”
As director of the institute, Anderson will spend one week each month in Blackwood Hall, working with an associate director and a manager. He says he views the institute as a critical tool for sharing scientific information with policy-makers at various levels.
“How does the scientific work get fed into the system? It's often less structured than you'd expect.”
Referring to more than a decade he spent in the federal cabinet, including seven years as minister of the science-based departments of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment, Anderson says: “We weren't always working as effectively as we could have with science people from the university community.”
Drawing on his wide-ranging political experience and his background in environmental consulting and public administration, he plans to help Guelph take on a stronger role in environmental policy-making. His job, he says, will be not so much to serve as a U of G spokesperson but “to make contact with policy-makers to ensure that the research done here receives appropriate consideration in the policy process.”
By early January, Anderson had met with various researchers and units across campus and talked with Guelph Mayor Karen Farbridge.
He was invited to work with Guelph by Prof. Joe Ackerman, associate dean of FES, after the former federal minister spoke during the 2005/06 Kenneth Hammond Lectures on Environment, Energy and Resources. Anderson also spoke on campus at national stewardship and conservation conferences organized by Hilts beginning in 2000.
First elected to Ottawa in 1968, Anderson established Parliament's first Environment Committee two years later. In 1972, he switched from federal to provincial politics, winning both a seat in the B.C. legislature and the leadership of the B.C. Liberal party. Re-elected as a Liberal MP in 1993, he served more than a decade as a cabinet minister in the Chrétien and Martin governments. He spent two years as minister of fisheries and oceans before becoming minister of the environment.
During his five years in the latter portfolio, Parliament passed the Species-at-Risk Act and Canada ratified the Kyoto Protocol to the Rio Convention on Climate Change. Anderson chose not to run in the 2006 election that brought the Harper Conservatives to power.
Asked about this year's replacement of former environment minister Rona Ambrose by John Baird, Anderson says he believes Prime Minister Stephen Harper now recognizes that he must reconsider his previous position in light of the “overwhelming consensus” among scientists about the climate effects of human-induced greenhouse gases.
“As a policy-maker, on an issue of this type and importance, you don't have the right to base policy on a small number of dissenting voices,” says Anderson. “It's your job to protect the public interest, not gamble with it. In power, you don't have the political authority or the moral right to ignore the high level of agreement and the clear advice that the scientific community has provided.”
Ontario Agricultural College dean Craig Pearson says he's “delighted” that Anderson has joined the University and “excited” about the possibilities for the GIE.
Besides the GIE, a proposed campus network is intended to connect researchers at U of G and all three regional campuses working in environmental and related sciences. This body — probably a web database listing all pertinent institutes and research centres at Guelph — would help in communicating and representing expertise outside the University, says Hilts.
“Just having the information on current faculty research across the campus available is a big step forward,” he says, explaining that the proposed network would help not just current researchers but also new faculty looking for potential research and teaching collaborators.
“People doing environmental research at Guelph should know each other. Also, we get many requests from off campus for referrals to appropriate experts, and having a network would help match up those requests and those experts.”
Hilts says such a network would also encourage formation of new environmental research groups on campus, help researchers develop interdisciplinary funding and enable campus members to connect their work with policy-makers through the GIE.
Anderson will give a public lecture on “Linking Public Policy to Science: The Challenges” as part of OAC's public lecture series Feb. 28 at 5:30 p.m. in Room 1714 of the Ontario Veterinary College's Lifetime Learning Centre.