feature 213 

One year ago, while presenting her 1994 budget, Finance Minister Elizabeth Cull announced a list of 60 government agencies that the province would no longer fund. Among the casualties were the B.C. Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy and the B.C. Energy Council. Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer wrote at the time that the Roundtable and the Energy Council were the only two agencies worth saving. This week Cull announced, somewhat belatedly, the 1995 provincial budget — the same week the Whistler Centre for Business and the Arts announced a new provincial Council for Sustainability. The council will continue the work done by the Roundtable and the Energy Council, but as an organization independent of government. "Government needs a once-removed body that can look at all aspects of sustainability: fish, the environment, forests, etcetera," says Anne Popma, president of the Whistler Centre. "The government did not ask us to do this, we responded to a call from the people on the existing local advisory groups and roundtables. There's a need for something like this." What the Council for Sustainability is, in layman's terms, is a Whistler think tank. But unlike the business-oriented Fraser Institute or the environmental Suzuki Foundation, the Council for Sustainability will attempt to bring balance to issues in British Columbia. "There are three legs to this stool," says Popma. "There are the economic considerations, the environmental concerns and the social concerns. We can't go too far in any one direction." The council's mandate is to develop the practice of sustainability — addressing issues fundamental to British Columbia — by moving beyond research and policy recommendations to implementation of "best practices" at all levels. By doing so it will also help Whistler step beyond the resort image. It's a natural extension of what the Centre for Business and the Arts has been doing for five years. "We have a five-year track record on sustainability, by offering programs like conflict resolution, integrated resource planning, community based decision making, aboriginal self governance and social cost accounting," says Popma. She sees a number of roles for the new council, including continuing public education, supporting local roundtables and advisory groups, convening, facilitation, skills training and demonstration projects. That means the council will work with and co-ordinate work done by groups like the Howe Sound Roundtable. In fact, in June it will host a conference of all the local advisory groups in the province. The council will also address issues such as energy consumption at the municipal or community level, urban containment, economic transitions and sustainable employment and the state of the West Coat fisheries, a subject familiar to the Council's Honourary Chair, John Fraser. A director of the Whistler Centre for Business and the Arts, Fraser is also the Canadian Ambassador for the Environment. A former Conservative MP and cabinet minister, he was the first Speaker of the House elected by MPs. His record on sustainability includes stints as co-chair of Globe 90 and 92 and a representative to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. More recently, he was chair of the Fraser River Sockeye Public Review Board, whose report on the state of the Sockeye salmon runs in B.C. has sparked debate over how to ensure the salmon remains a sustainable resource. Six other seats on the council have been filled, and a call for nominations for the remaining seats went out this week. Popma is adamant that the council will not be a top-down organization. In December a 75-person workshop was held with representatives from across British Columbia’s economic, social and environmental spectrums. Those people provided input into the direction the council will take, but the council’s origins date back to 1987. That was the year the World Commission on Environment and Development tabled a global agenda for change and published the United Nations’ book Our Common Future, commonly called the Bruntland Report. It called for changes in behavior, attitudes, social values and aspirations at all levels if the world is to have a sustainable future. Canada responded by striking a national Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy to provide federal advice on how to achieve sustainable development. In 1990 B.C. followed suit, creating the B.C. Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy. The B.C. Roundtable began a process of research, public consultation and consensus-based decision making to define a "sustainability agenda." More than 40 strategic documents were produced, including several major reports and 200 consensus decisions. In 1992 the B.C. Energy Council was created to advise the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources on energy issues and create a sustainable energy strategy for the province. A draft strategy was released last May and the final Energy Strategy in November. The Energy Strategy includes a definition of sustainable energy and 65 specific recommendations. When the province announced an end to funding for the Energy Council and the Roundtable last year, the Whistler Centre struck a planning team to come up with terms of reference for the Council for Sustainability. As a non-profit society the Whistler Centre was judged an appropriate organization to "pick up the sustainability baton" and follow through on the Roundtable’s call to action. The board of the Whistler Centre for Business and the Arts still holds the legal responsibilities, but the Council for Sustainability works independently underneath the Centre’s umbrella. More than $60,000 in funding for the Council has been raised from diverse sources, including a grant from the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, which has a history of supporting non-governmental organizations working for sustainability. The Council for Sustainability is not without precedent; the Keystone Center in Colorado has been doing similar work through its Science and Public Policy Program since 1975. "There’s years of work just to act on the issues the previous advisory groups have identified," Popma says. While the Council for Sustainability won’t have a direct line to Victoria she anticipates that by being a balanced, independent body the council’s conclusions will be hard for politicians to ignore, even at budget time.

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