Nova Scotia

N.S. climate file stagnating 15 months after emergency debate, say opposition MLAs

Fifteen months since an emergency debate at Province House on the climate crisis, opposition MLAs say there's little to show for it.

Lack of progress on roundtable appointments and green spending a source of frustration

The chamber at Province House was the site of an emergency debate on climate change in the fall of 2019. Opposition MLAs say not enough progress has come since then. (Robert Short/CBC)

Opposition politicians are questioning the Nova Scotia government's commitment to the environment following further delays related to key legislation.

During a meeting Tuesday of the legislature's standing committee on human resources, it was noted that the minister's roundtable on environment and sustainable prosperity is mostly vacant.

Tory MLA Brad Johns, the party's environment critic, said it's been about 15 months since an emergency debate on the climate crisis was held at Province House, but little seems to have come from it.

The government passed new legislation in October 2019 related to emissions reduction efforts and other environmental initiatives, but most of the goals and timelines are to be set in regulations that have yet to be developed.

Environment Minister Gordon Wilson acknowledged in the fall the government would miss its own timelines to get things in place.

A priority or not?

Johns expressed frustration that the minister's roundtable, which has 15 positions, still has 12 vacancies. That's despite 55 people putting their names forward for consideration.

"If it is a priority for the government, then I don't understand why we're not filling those vacancies," he said in an interview. "Either the environment is a priority or it's not."

Like Johns, New Democrat MLA Claudia Chender said the government is taking too long to act on an issue that has reached a crisis level.

Chender pointed to the provincial green fund, which was created through the province's cap-and-trade program. The value of the fund after two cap-and-trade auctions last year was $28.7 million, with most of that money remaining unspent to date.

More appointments coming

Environment Department officials have said now that the organizational work related to the fund is mostly complete, attention will turn to ways to spend the money.

But Chender said she's disappointed that so little of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on COVID-related stimulus projects has focused on green initiatives.

"While many of those projects may be necessary, they certainly are not carbon neutral and they certainly need to be balanced and mitigated by robust action on the climate file," she said.

An Environment Department spokesperson said further appointments to the minister's roundtable are expected in the coming months.