Under cover of COVID, Pallister serves an environmental privatization bonanza

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Manitoba’s Conservative government has used the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic crisis as an opportunity to ram through legislation aimed at privatizing the province’s forests, parks, water infrastructure and flood control.

A statement issued by the Wilderness Committee in the spring notes that, without any opportunity for public discussion, the government has moved forward with 25 new bills – more than 600 pages of legislation – that it had introduced just prior to the COVID-related shutdown.

The Wildnerness Committee’s Wilderness and Water Campaigner Eric Reder said, “Manitobans are trying to keep it together during the pandemic, with fears and uncertainties and unimaginable life changes upending their routines. For Pallister and his cronies to rush through major changes to laws concerning Manitoba’s nature and ecosystems with no chance for public scrutiny is nothing short of cruel.”

Among the legislation is Bill 30, The Fisheries Amendment, Forest Amendment and Provincial Parks Amendment Act, which is currently in second reading. The bill enables privatization of forests and provincial parks, including the broad privatization of licencing.

The Wilderness Committee’s Reder criticized the government’s use of the health crisis as cover for the bill. “How is privatizing control of forests and protected areas a pandemic response? Do we want corporations to have control over clearcut logging in Duck Mountain Provincial Park? Or operating campgrounds? We must not privatize forest licencing or provincial parks, period.”

Premier Brian Pallister is also rushing through Bill 36, The Water Resources Administration Amendment Act. The government claims this bill increases its powers to manage water control works and protect provincial water infrastructure. In fact, Bill 36 allows for expanded privatization of lakes, rivers or other water channels and surrounding embankments that are designated as provincial waterways. Under the legislation, a broader group of private companies may contract for construction, operation and repair of water control works, “including through a cost-sharing arrangement” (read P3s). Furthermore, Bill 36 allows for public access to provincial water infrastructure to be prohibited or restricted by regulation – meaning without legislative debate – and streamlines the process for sale of public land.

The Conservatives’ privatization drive also includes Bill 34, The Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act. This bill is a 55-page piece of omnibus legislation that includes extending the mineral tax exploration credit by three years. According to the Wilderness Committee, that means “we not only keep bulldozing intact forests and destroying lakes in provincial parks but subsidize corporations to do it.”

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