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Reflections on Our Species at Risk Advocacy in Prince Edward Island

July 13, 2022

This winter, East Coast Environmental Law published a report entitled Simply Not Protected: An Evaluation of Prince Edward Island’s Legal Framework to Protect Species at Risk. This blog post offers some updates and reflections on the conversations that have happened since.

Our Simply Not Protected report is part of a series that we’ve been working on for several years, which evaluates the extent to which the governments of the Atlantic Canadian provinces are complying with their legal obligations to protect species at risk. The series began in 2015 with a report entitled Protected on Paper Only: Evaluation of Nova Scotia’s Legal Obligations to Protect and Recover Mainland Moose and Other Species at Risk. That report has since been updated twice. In 2020, we published a similar report entitled Protected on Paper Only: An Evaluation of New Brunswick’s Legal Obligations under the Species at Risk Act. We are currently working on a similar report for Newfoundland and Labrador, and we intend for it to share the “Protected on Paper Only” series title. 

When it came time to produce our report on the Government of Prince Edward Island’s performance under its primary species at risk law—which is Prince Edward Island's Wildlife Conservation Act—we felt that our established “Protected on Paper Only” title didn’t quite fit. That’s because Prince Edward Island’s legal regime to protect species at risk in the province stands out from the regimes of the other Atlantic Canadian provinces in a striking way.

Whereas New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia have all taken the critical step of legally designating species at risk to receive the legal protections that their species at risk laws are designed to provide, to our knowledge no species have ever been designated under the species at risk provisions of Prince Edward Island’s Wildlife Conservation Act, which means that no species at risk in Prince Edward Island are benefitting from the provisions of that Act that are designed specifically to protect endangered and threatened species and species of special concern. For this reason, whereas for the other three Atlantic Canadian provinces we can at least say that species at risk are protected on paper, we can’t say the same for species at risk in Prince Edward Island, because no government to date has taken the critical step of designating endangered or threatened species or species of special concern to receive the protections that the Wildlife Conservation Act aims to give to such species. This is why our report on the state of things in Prince Edward Island differs from the others in our series and is called “Simply Not Protected” instead of “Protected on Paper Only”. 

Notably, the sections of the Wildlife Conservation Act that are designed to protect species at risk in Prince Edward Island also lack key elements contained in other species at risk legislation in Atlantic Canada, such as mandatory requirements for recovery and management planning and clear deadlines by which such requirements must be met. For this reason, our report not only calls on Prince Edward Island’s Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Action to meet requirements and use discretionary powers under the Act to protect species at risk on the Island; it also calls on all government representatives to work together to enact stronger species at risk legislation for the province. Additionally, the report calls on the Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Action to re-establish an Advisory Committee that could help the government identify and prioritize protections needed for species at risk on the Island.

We sent our report to the office of Prince Edward Island’s Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Action in mid-February before releasing it publicly in early March. In the weeks that followed, the report inspired conversations in Prince Edward Island’s Legislative Assembly about the status of species at risk on the Island and the need for government action. Eventually, during the spring budget discussions, the Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Action shared that the government was planning to work on new legislation to protect species at risk. 

In late March, East Coast Environmental Law staff were invited to present to Prince Edward Island’s Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability to discuss our report. I met virtually with the Committee on June 9th and appreciated the opportunity to answer committee members’ questions about the conclusions we reached in our report and the recommendations we made within it. A recording of the presentation and discussion that followed is available here. The following week, Prince Edward Island’s Deputy Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Action and two senior members of his staff met with the Standing Committee to share their perspectives on the issues addressed in our report and discuss possibilities for legislative amendments or new legislation. A recording of their session is available here.

During his session with the Standing Committee, the Deputy Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Action indicated that the government is prepared to re-establish an Advisory Committee in the near future, and many of the comments made by senior staff on possibilities for legislative amendments or new legislation were promising. Although the conversations that have taken place in the Legislative Assembly and with the Standing Committee have highlighted some differences of opinion concerning the strength of existing legal protections for species at risk in Prince Edward Island, I believe that the conversations have been positive on the whole, and I am hopeful that they will bear fruit.

Since the publication of Simply Not Protected and my presentation to the Standing Committee, we have received positive feedback from several people and groups advocating to protect species at risk in Prince Edward Island through various fields of practice. Clearly, biodiversity loss and the decline of Island species are keenly felt by many. With each conversation, we are learning more about work being done on the ground to protect species at risk on the Island and what legal gaps should be filled. In the coming months, we will continue to connect with individuals, community groups, and organizations on the Island, and we look forward to seeing the government’s law reform proposals when they come.

 

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Tina Northrup, Staff Lawyer

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