To mark the publication of The Canadian Environment in Political Context, the author, Andrea Olive, provides an overview of the book’s contents in addition to reflecting on why she decided to write the book and how its approach will benefit students.
The Canadian Environment in Political Context is a direct outcome of my own cross-border and cross-discipline background. I grew up in Saskatchewan and moved to Alberta and then Nova Scotia for university. After that, I hopped across the border to Washington DC to work for a lobby group in higher education. From there it was a quick jump to Indiana for my PhD. While all my academic degrees are in the discipline of political science, my research tends to cross over into geography, environmental studies, Indigenous studies, and public law. I started my academic career at the University of Michigan-Dearborn where I taught American environmental policy and researched endangered species conservation and Arctic issues. In 2012, I returned home to Canada and took a position at the University of Toronto where I am officially cross-appointed between the departments of political science and geography. I now teach Canadian environmental policy. Since the Canadian political system is so different from the US system, I have had to reorient myself in order to understand the environment inside a parliamentary democracy.
This book is based on my experience of teaching environmental policy in a political science department for the past six years. What I have come to realize is that you cannot understand environmental policy until you understand federalism. This is truer in Canada than the US since sub-national jurisdictions in Canada (the provinces and to some extent the territories) have enormous power in natural resource development and property regulations. You also cannot fully grasp environmental policy without knowledge of Indigenous politics (in the North but also across the country) and recent Supreme Court decisions. Canadian politics is fascinating. Even more so, putting Canadian environmental policy into its political context is both enthralling and necessary.
The book is organized into twelve chapters that in many respects reflect twelve different lectures or modules in my undergraduate course. But more than just lectures, the chapters should reflect the thousands of conversations that I have had with students, colleagues, and policy makers in recent years.
The book begins with an overview of Canada’s environmental track record from coast to coast to coast. The next two chapters present a broad outline of the Canadian political system and policy process. The fourth chapter is a sweeping history of environmentalism in Canada, focusing on the “waves” in the twentieth century, and then the inertia under the most recent Conservative government. Chapters five through eight are issue focused: endangered species, water, land, and energy. Understanding the role of the federal government and the provinces is the key focus, but attention is also given to the role of cities, non-governmental organizations, and citizens in each issue-area. Aboriginal politics is the topic of chapter nine and provides the reader with an introduction to Indigenous peoples in Canada as well as a history of aboriginal law and environmental policy across the country. This flows nicely into chapter ten, which focuses on the North and Far North where First Nations and Inuit play a large role in natural resource management and environmental policy making (and implementation). However, the chapter also focuses on energy politics and international governance via the Arctic Council. Chapter eleven places the Canadian environment into a global context, and explains the country’s role in international agreements on environmental issues like biodiversity, hazardous chemicals, and climate change. Finally, the concluding chapter provides both a summary of the book’s main points as well as a forward-looking account of Canada in the twenty-first century. Ultimately hopeful, the book posits that the best environmental policies lie ahead.
The obvious intention of the book is to help undergraduate students understand how the Canadian political system, namely federalism, shapes environmental policy and law in the country. However, the book should also engage readers and inspire deeper exploration into the concepts and issues discussed in the twelve chapters. American readers will be able to draw contrasts to their own political system in which federalism is organized differently and, consequently, plays into environmental policy differently. Since Canada and the US are so deeply intertwined from both an economic and an environmental standpoint, the book covers many topics that can best be understood in a North American context. Similarly, other international readers should hopefully be able to understand why Canada makes environmental policy (or fails to make policy) the way it does. Ultimately, I hope all readers finish the book with a new appreciation of the Canadian environment and a desire to change the way they think and act toward a variety of environmental issues.
Andrea Olive is Assistant Professor of Political science and Geography at the University of Toronto Mississauga. Her most recent book is Land, Stewardship, and Legitimacy: Endangered Species Policy in Canada and the United States.