The Canadian government must put nature conservation at the heart of our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Land protections are one of the best ways to accomplish this.
The Importance of Land Protection
Canada is a country deeply dependent on, and connected to, nature and land. It underpins our sense of place, our well-being, and our economy. As the second largest country in the world, Canada stewards 20% of the Earth’s wild forests, 24% of its wetlands and almost one third of its land-stored carbon. Canada is home to some of the world’s largest remaining wild rivers, largest remaining natural terrestrial mammal migration and billions of birds nesting in Canada’s Boreal and temperate forests, tundra, wetlands, and grasslands.
Protected areas have a proven track record in delivering significant direct and indirect economic benefits. In 2009, Canada’s federal, provincial, and territorial parks supported 64,000 jobs and contributed $6 to Canada’s GDP for every $1 invested by governments. Protected areas also boost and diversify rural economies by attracting new residents and businesses to park “gateway” communities. In 2017-18, the economic impact of visitor spending at Parks Canada sites included a $2.8 billion contribution to Canada’s Gross Domestic Product, supported 36,453 full-time jobs across the country, and generated $486 million dollars in tax revenues across multiple levels of government.
A recent study estimated that the mental health value of national parks worldwide at $6 trillion USD per year based on avoided mental health care costs. Protecting and growing natural areas and considering them as an essential service can play an important role in addressing mental health challenges including those related to COVID-19.
Canada’s Global Stewardship Responsibility
Canada has a significant global responsibility to conserve nature. Scientists have identified Canada as a potential “conservation superpower” based on the high proportion of our ecosystems that contribute to global environmental health. According to experts, Canada’s implementation of ‘a relatively small number of national policies can have environmental repercussions for the rest of the world”.
Canadians overwhelmingly support commitment to protect 30% of land and ocean by 2030.
A March 2020 Abacus poll found that 9 out of 10 Canadians support the federal government’s pledge to protect 30% of our land and seascape by 2030, 80% expect Canada to be a global leader in protecting land and water, and three quarters support expanding funding to create more protected areas.
Given these responsibility for stewardship, it is all the more disappointing that the history of protected areas in Canada has been fraught with rights violations, forcible displacement, loss of access to traditional territories and resources, and other substantial inter-generational cultural, social, economic, and spiritual impacts for Indigenous Peoples.
Impact on Indigenous Peoples
Canada is unlikely to meet conservation goals without the support and involvement of Indigenous Peoples and we must recognize their necessary leadership.
Seventy percent of Canada’s Indigenous communities are in forested areas, and in the absence of sufficient government action, many communities are leading the fight for conservation and land protection. Many parks and protected areas were created without the consent of Indigenous Peoples who were often forcibly removed from their lands to make way for tourism, recreation and related development, or to maintain the appearance of Eurocentric notions of pristine wilderness devoid of human influence. These actions have also prevented the full functionality of Indigenous legal orders tied to spaces and places captured by parks. Some of the many examples:
- The Keeseekoowenin First Nation was forcibly removed when Riding Mountain National Park was established in Manitoba in 1933, and
- The Mowachaht and Muchalaht First Nations of the Nuuchah-nulth Peoples when Strathcona Provincial Park was created in BC
Rethinking our Land Protection Strategies
COVID-19 has created the space to consider the important links link between human health, environmental and economic health and to re-think the future. As governments plan for recovery from COVID-19 they can choose to stimulate the economy by rebuilding in a way that is more healthy, equitable, and green — for the benefit of nature and humanity for generations to come.
In choosing to place protecting and restoring nature at the heart of COVID-19 recovery plans and investments, Canada would join a growing global trend: the European Union (EU) has committed to incorporating their Biodiversity Strategy into recovery plans, establishing protected areas covering 30% of Europe’s land and ocean by 2030, restoring degraded ecosystems across Europe, and unlocking €33 billion per year to conserve biodiversity; and New Zealand has announced a $1.1 billion (NZD) program to create 11,000 new regional jobs to help restore the country’s natural environment. 
There should be agreed-upon Canada-wide standards for protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, ensuring these areas are permanently protected from industrial activities and damaging infrastructure development.
We must work as an ally to support Indigenous-led initiatives to further enhance understanding of the conservation landscape in Canada including supporting Indigenous-led Conservation and Protected Areas (ICPAs), in accordance with party policy 2000- Land Protection.
Reinforcing the significant benefits that protected areas provide for mental and physical health, conserving biodiversity, mitigating, and adapting to climate change, job creation, and economic stimulus is extremely important. There are many steps to take, such as:
- Investing in completing effective networks of protected areas
- Committing to protecting 50% of Canada’s natural landscapes by 2050, with an emphasis on biodiverse areas or areas with endangered species, as per party policy 2000- Land Protection
- Investing in long-term protected area management, to maximize the benefits of, and return on, investment in protected areas that provide for local communities
- Developing a more ambitious Boreal Forest Protection Plan that will guarantee the conservation of endangered species, such as Caribou, Grizzly Bears, and Wolverines
- Ensure that the Boreal Forest Protection Plan maximizes the storage capacity of the Boreal, which is over 300 billion tonnes of carbon (equal to 36 years’ worth of global emissions). Over the past 20 years, 25.4 million acres have been logged for industrial purposes. This number should be cut exponentially in the upcoming years
- Creating a protected zone in the Arctic in which no mineral resource exploration is permitted by any country, as per party policy G08-p124
In order to promote an international effort towards a green recovery, it is important that we lead by example. As leader, I would be a strong voice and advocate for Canada to reclaim its place on the world stage, building coalitions to support land and ecosystem protection efforts, as well as marine reserves, in accordance with party policy G08-p095.
We lead by building green infrastructure, planting billions of trees and other native species, preventing flood and soil erosion, rebuilding wetlands, cleaning up plastic pollution, constructing and maintaining accessible paths, trails, and fire breaks; rehabilitating and removing abandoned structures, and eradicating invasive species and flora disease; and other natural methods of carbon pollution sequestration.
 Buckley, 2020
 Artelle et al., 2019 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320719307803#!
 The Indigenous Circle of Experts’ Report and Recommendations, 2018