EDITORIAL: Better, not bigger, government

The governments in Victoria and Ottawa have scrapped most of the processes for referrals between ministries

Now retired, Nanoose Bay’s Ross Peterson was a government biologist.

He used to come to work Mondays to find a pile of documents on his desk, requests from other government ministries that wanted — needed, were mandated to get — his professional opinion on a development or tree farm licence application or road construction or a host of other things happening to the land and water.

We have been slow to learn, but most humans now understand the links between species on our planet. Cutting trees in a forest 50 km from the ocean can effect salmon in waters 100 km from the shore. And the frog that lives in the estuary. And the bird that eats the frog.

With this knowledge, governments set up referral systems, whereby development and other actions which required the approval of a government ministry were scrutinized by professionals in other ministries.

So, let’s say you wanted to build a ski hill or a golf course. Your detailed, expensive-to-complete application would have to be filed with the tourism or lands ministry. That ministry would then be responsible for collecting professional opinions from a host of other ministries. How would this ski hill/golf course affect streams in the area? The fish? How about hunting? What do the First Nations of the region say? Are there mining interests?

While this all sounds efficient and proper, it’s also mind-numbingly slow. The opportunity could be lost, the money sent a different direction, while the notoriously slow wheels of government turn. “Too bad, that’s how government works” is not a good enough response to someone who might want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars and provide employment for hundreds of people for decades.

Some governments have tried to find that balance. Meanwhile, governments like the ones we currently have in Ottawa and Victoria are constantly looking for ways to cut budgets. That, says our biologist Peterson, has led to the scrapping of the referral process. One hand of government literally may not know what the other hand is doing. That can’t be good.

We are not in favour of more government. We are in favour of better government. We are in favour of governments protecting our safety and the safety of our environment. There is much that our government does that can be scrapped.

Governments need to re-invigorate and re-invest in the referral process.

— Editorial by John Harding

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