New book by UTM prof examines forces that shape environmental policy in Canada

Andrea Olive
Friday, April 22, 2016 - 10:12am
Blake Eligh

The environmental is political and you can’t have one without the other. Understanding that crucial relationship is the theme of a new book by U of T Mississauga assistant professor of political science and geography Andrea Olive.

Published in December 2015, The Canadian Environment in Political Context explores Canadian environmental policy through a political lens, covering forces such as federalism, climate change, aboriginal land rights and more. It was initially written as a companion for a course Olive teaches at UTM. The Canadian environmental policy class brings together about 160 political science and environmental studies students who often puzzle over the lack of cohesive environmental protections in Canada.

“People get frustrated—why don’t we have a national water policy? Why don’t we have a national climate policy?” Olive says. “You need to understand the basic political science concepts to understand why we have the policies we do. That takes people by surprise. “

“Everyone thinks the federal government has the power, but the provinces are immensely powerful when it comes to the environment—they control their natural resources, provincial land and private property,” she says. “This book is really about understanding the relationship between the provinces and the feds, and understanding the provinces as powerful actors.”

Endangered species protection is just one example, she says. “The federal government has no power here,” she says. “There’s a weak federal bill that applies to federal land to protect migratory birds and aquatic species, but the federal government has no authority over provincial or private lands (about 60 per cent of the country). So they can list a species deemed at risk, but can’t protect its habitat. That falls to the provinces, who might not have a law.”

Olive’s book also examines the importance of our most northern borders and our relationships with international actors, such as the Arctic Council who have interests in the most remote area of the country, and she delves into the roles that aboriginal people and treaty rights also play in environmental policy decisions.

“In Canada, we can never understand the environment without considering that political context,” she says. “To make change at any level—local, national or international—you need to know how the wheel turns.”

The book has a companion website where Olive and her research assistants write weekly blog posts and update the book content. “The environmental policy world moves so quickly, so it’s important to have a place to record those changes,” Olive says.

This is Olive’s second book—Land, Stewardship, and Legitimacy provided a close examination of endangered species policy on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. The Hill Times lauded the book as one of the top 100 books published in 2014.