How the Endangered Species Legislation was sold to our legislature by Jim White

It is not often that a lobbyist group openly brags about their achievements in getting a government to pass desired legislation. A publication and website posting of the Ivy Foundation created in late 2007 outlines in self-congratulatory detail of how they and five other environmentalist groups got the Ontario government to pass the Endangered Species legislation which came into effect on July 1st, 2008.

The Ivy Foundation explains how they and four other environmental groups founded the Save Ontario’s Species (SOS) Coalition in 2005. The other members were the David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence, Ontario Nature, Sierra Legal Defence Fund (now EcoJustice) and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPSWS).

The objective of the SOS task force was to get then Premier McGuinty to fulfill his 2003 election promise to enact endangered species legislation. Their activities are presented in sequence and provide an interesting plan of action for anyone interested in getting desired legislation.

We have arbitrarily identified and numbered the steps and resulting achievements described in their web posting, a posting which incidentally was removed in the last week of June/08.

Sequence of Events

The first action of the five environmental groups in 2003 was to form the Save Ontario Species (SOS) Coalition. It prepared a “Best Practices” report which summarized the endangered species legislation across Canada, the United States, Australia and Mexico. It made specific recommendations of existing practices to demonstrate the practicality of their recommendations.
The second action was to provide a framework of a revised Act using the following four criteria: mandatory protection for species and their habitats; a science-based process for listing species to be included; the creation and implementation of recovery plans; and stewardship incentive to deliver effective protection.

Next, they condensed their 14 recommendations into four benchmarks which achieved three objectives, namely: creating a “must-have” list of attributes for the act to be easily understood by politicians and policy advisors; defining a compelling vision of the process for the public; and providing a strong unified theme to create effective communications for use at government meetings, legislative hearings and public consultations.

Their fourth action was to encourage the government to create a panel of “experts” to review the current legislation and make recommendations to the Minister of Natural Resources. They point out that this is a significant departure from “stakeholder” panels usually created by governments. This, in effect, eliminated all forest industry and landowner opponents. The expert panel quickly delivered a unanimous report which recommended innovative habitat protection.

The final stage of the process was the lobbying of politicians, political staff and senior bureaucrats. They note the government relations efforts were successful because the timely appointment of senior MNR Ministry staff who believed the proposed legislation could co-exist with healthy resource industries and economic growth. Other factors were the hands-on involvement of political staff who informed the bureaucracy of desired results and clear statements that the effort was non-partisan and all who supported them would be praised.

They distributed thousands of Save Ontario Species brochures and a postcard addressed to the Premier through community newspapers. Local naturalist clubs and wildlife groups were encouraged to send in comments. They also raised awareness among MPPs with a reception at the legislature. A letter signed by 100 scientists that endorsed the legislation was sent to all the MPPs.

The Ivy Foundation attributes their success in writing this legislation and selling it to the legislature to several factors. These include: the political situation when they began which saw the Premier concerned that he would be accused of breaking another promise; the appointment of supportive bureaucrats early in the process; the establishment of solid trust relationships with senior political and bureaucratic staff; the coalition was small enough for quick decision making and had a senior campaigner employed as a campaign coordinator; and the coalition made both the costs and benefits of success or failure clear to the political and bureaucratic levels of government.

The Foundation identified the weaknesses of their opponents as: being late and disorganized in making their case to government; being poorly briefed on the bill’s content and procedures; calling for more consultation rather than opposing the legislation; having few positive amendments to make; and neither opposition party were willing to oppose it.

The website left a few questions unanswered, namely how much did it cost to enact this legislation and did any of the five coalition members spend over their limit on this political activity. Charitable organizations are limited by their Federal government charter to spending 10% of annual expenditures on political activities.

Some of us who participated in the sham public participation sessions conducted by the Ministry of Natural Resources, now know why the environmentalists asked so few questions. They had written the Legislation and had all the answers.

The process provides an excellent action plan and guidelines to groups attempting to get legislation in support of their interests.