Why politicians make terrible environmentalists
Was the decision to destroy the Monarch fields a fait accompli?
By Richard Swift
October 4, 2021
As we moved through the recent Federal election cycle, potential voters were bombarded by the ‘concern’ of politicians for the environment. Almost all parties dressed themselves up in their best green clothes to impress the electorate at a time when anyone of minimal intelligence knows that our species is facing a disaster of cascading ecological crises underpinned by the threat of massive climate degradation. Something (a lot of things actually) needs to be done.
Yet, despite the rhetoric, ecological health continues to be a mere ‘factor’ in economic decision-making rather than the absolute priority it needs to be. So issues like preserving and enhancing green space, sustaining endangered species, husbanding precious resources, dramatically cutting (rather than simply promising distant future cuts) carbon emissions are carefully weighed up as simply one set of variables amongst many in making investment decisions. They are balanced against criteria of growth and profitability so as not to offend the corporate power holders that swing so much weight in our society. Placed in this context, dramatic action or even coherent environmental regulation quickly falls way down the list of policy criteria.
… despite the rhetoric, ecological health continues to be a mere ‘factor’ in economic decision-making rather than the absolute priority it needs to be.
This greenwashing approach to justifying distinctly anti-ecological investment decisions spreads across the political spectrum from Right to Left. Whether it’s the NDP’s failure to protect old-growth forests in British Columbia, the Conservatives championing Alberta’s dirty oil sands and its many spinoffs, or Liberal waffling over everything from pipelines to underwriting the mad search for more fossil fuel projects. Yet, all these parties would have us believe that they are the only true guardians of the environment.
We have an excellent example of this enviro-duplicity right here in Montreal. For months now, a campaign has been waged to protect precious monarch butterfly habitat in the large ‘Technoparc‘ green space neighbouring Montreal’s Trudeau Airport. By some strange quirk of regulatory politics, this vital green space is under the control of the airport authority through a lease although the federal government is the true owner. In post-pandemic times, the authority is hungry for revenue and has plans to itself further lease out this precious ecological resource to developers, starting with what has come to be known as the ‘Monarch fields.’ The pushback from neighbouring communities, environmental groups and voices in the media has been fierce. So much so that the Aéroports de Montréal (ADM) has been forced into delaying the final decision of turning the fields over to the corporate lessee – a subsidiary of Medicom Group, True North Innovative Non-Woven Materials Inc. Then came a spate of elections both federal and municipal.
‘By some strange quirk of regulatory politics, this vital green space [Monarch fields] is under the control of the airport authority through a lease although the federal government is the true owner.’
Enter seven-term Lac-Saint-Louis MP Frank Scarpaleggia. In a post-election interview, Scarpaleggia gave away the plot on the controversial surrender of part of the Technoparc (known as the Monarch fields) by Montreal’s Aéroports de Montréal (ADM) to the corporate developers. In his victory lap interview in the Montreal Gazette on September 30, Scarpaleggia, while championing Liberal environmental achievements, let slip that the decision to destroy this habitat was a fait accompli. He went on to provide the usual laundry list of justifications including ‘expert opinion’ and amelioration through replanting milkweed while stating baldly that “the airport authority had to destroy some habitat to make room for a construction project.” So much for due process and taking official responsibility for decisions.
The movement to save the Monarch fields now needs to gather itself to ward off future corporate giveaways by Aéroports de Montréal, which would eventually destroy the entire wetland green space in Dorval. It is a sad irony that such anti-environmental decisions get taken in the context of politicians puffing on about being champions of the environment. In trying to be everything to everybody, you end up being nothing to anybody. And those with the financial clout continue to get their own way.
‘The movement to save the Monarch fields now needs to gather itself to ward off future corporate giveaways by Aéroports de Montréal, which would eventually destroy the entire wetland green space in Dorval.’
So what are we to take from Mr. Scarpaleggia’s interview? Was the fix always in? Were those of us trying to save the Monarch habitat just howling at the moon? The only definitive proof of this will be a serious decision by all involved to embrace ecological sanity and preserve this precious piece of habitat for the endangered butterflies.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of WestmountMag.ca or its publishers.
Richard Swift is an author and writer for the New Internationalist magazine of Oxford, in the United Kingdom.