Professional Reliance in British Columbia: Trickle-Down Consequences in the Local Government Sector

Note to Reader:

In June 2018, British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy completed a review of professional reliance in the natural resource sector to ensure the highest professional, technical and ethical standards are being applied to resource management in British Columbia. 

In October 2018, the Minister introduced the Professional Governance Act (Bill 49-2018). The legislation is designed to make sure decisions affecting the province’s natural resources are science-based, transparent and protect B.C.’s unique environment for future generations.

High profile consequences of the “professional reliance model” have been well-publicized in the natural resource management sector. Not as well-understood are the trickle-down consequences of “professional reliance” in the local government sector. The latter are insidious and have resulted from a comparable absence of provincial oversight.

The implications for the local government sector were foreshadowed in an op-ed article published by the Vancouver Sun newspaper the month before in September 2018. To read the op-ed, click on Restorative Development: Hydrology is the Engine that Powers Ecological Services. 

A key message is that the process to adopt, change or evolve accepted practices is painfully slow. Reinvigoration of the provincial oversight function is essential to help local governments be effective in moving B.C. toward restorative land development.

Not the End of the World; Just the Beginning of Another

2018 is a teachable year. This past summer, if you wanted to know what climate change will mean to your future, all you had to do was be outside to see what is to come. The entire Northern Hemisphere was impacted by extreme weather – drought, forest fires or flooding.

Week after week, we in B.C. were unable to leave the smoky room of a rapidly changing climate. Prominent scientists say 2018 marks a turning point in human history. We may have crossed an invisible threshold into a new climate regime.

But it is not the end of the world; just the beginning of another. B.C. is one of the last places on the planet where it is still possible to transcend the climate debate and create a better world. B.C. has enough remaining natural capital to protect and restore its way back to true sustainability.

Will We Adapt?

We are at a moment of truth. Will we adapt? Water defines B.C., and the rhythms of water are changing. We have the knowledge and tools to restore balance to the water cycle. Can we, will we? Most importantly, will we get it right?

Yes, of course we can – but only if civil engineers, urban planners and decision-makers change their mind-sets and grasp the inherent complexity and unpredictability of working with natural systems. The situation calls for transformation in how we value nature and service land, and especially how we reconnect hydrology and ecology to mimic the natural flow pattern in streams.

Storm Cunningham Quotable Quote

“80% of the revitalizing work done by urban planners and civil engineers in the 21st century will undo 80% of the work their predecessors did to cities and nature in the 20th century,” foreshadows Storm Cunningham, author of the Restoration Economy, and global thought leader. “We don’t fully understand complex systems, so humility and adaptive management are needed to restore nature, and to revitalize cities.”

The Provincial Oversight Function

In 2002, for example, the provincial government released “Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia”. This set a new direction for land development, founded on the principle of working with nature. Yet, 16 years later, communities are experiencing more flooding and more stream erosion; and streams are going dry during extreme droughts. Why?

Entrenched beliefs and a reluctance to change 20th century engineering practices have consistently resulted in missed opportunities to “get it right”. A central authority is necessary to establish expectations and ensure practitioner accountability.

A Framework is in Place

In the absence of a regulatory requirement, the process to adopt, change or evolve accepted practices is painfully slow. Reinvigoration of the provincial oversight function is essential to help local governments be effective in moving B.C. towards restorative land development.

The good news is that – starting with “Living Water Smart, B.C.’s Water Plan” in 2008 – a provincial policy, program and regulatory framework is in place to achieve this desired outcome. The not-so-good news is that policy and program effectiveness has been undermined over the past decade due to cutbacks in civil service capacity. With provincial commitment, the situation can be turned around.

Getting It Right Depends On….

Local governments are implementers. This means they can be change leaders. They can integrate climate adaptation into the activities and actions of engineered and natural asset management – or flipping it around, integrate asset management into the activities and actions of climate adaptation. Getting it right starts with recognition that hydrology is the engine that powers ecological services.

But getting it right depends on provincial and local government alignment to require ‘design with nature’ standards of practice for servicing of land – so that communities decrease their ‘destructive footprint’ while at the same time increasing their ‘restoration footprint’.

Call to Action

We cannot restore lost biodiversity but we can halt its decline and consciously direct evolution toward a richer future. We can make where we live better. We can be an example for the world to follow.

We can make sustainable attainable if we work together. Restore. Restore. Restore. Let that be our imperative.