Background Paper on Environmental Stewardship: An Approach for Building a Sustainable Rural Canada

Commissioned by the Rural Secretariat, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Project Completion

May 2004

Background/Context

Over the past few years, there have been increasing pressures for the federal government to move beyond traditional approaches to conserve wilderness areas and protect the environment. One of the priorities has been to preserve our renewable and non-renewable resources, land and ecosystems, and our natural capital, through an approach called environmental stewardship. Although there has been significant spending and support for environmental stewardship initiatives over the past decade, there has not been much focus in mainstream rural Canada on how such stewardship can contribute to rural communities’ long-term sustainability and viability. As part of the development of the National Rural Policy Framework (NRPF), the Rural Secretariat, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, has been studying five policy areas focused on strengthening the viability and sustainability of communities in rural Canada. These policy areas are: sustainable livelihoods, smart approaches to rural infrastructure, engaged local populations and institutions, demographic adaptation, and shared environmental stewardship. The development of the National Rural Policy Framework presents an opportunity to help all levels of government better coordinate their efforts toward the common goal of helping to increase rural communities’ long-term sustainability and viability.

Purpose of the Discussion Paper

The purpose of this paper on environmental stewardship was to contribute to the development of a national framework for rural policy that can support community capacity building, encourage community and sector initiatives to improve and renew the rural economic and social base, and enhance collaboration across and among governments to the benefit of rural and remote Canada. The paper did not pretend to be a definitive analysis of the rural environmental stewardship issue; rather it sought to provide an effective starting point for policy discussions aimed at integrating the concept of environmental stewardship into the NRPF.

Methodology

To prepare the discussion paper, a review of relevant documents was conducted and a definitional scan and literature review of the concept of environmental stewardship in the rural context were undertaken. In-depth interviews were also held with eight key informants from relevant federal departments and five representatives from non-government organizations. In addition, frequent meetings were held with Environment Canada and the Rural Secretariat staff.

Summary

The paper outlined the contribution that a shared environmental stewardship can make to rural communities. It set out some additional background to the issues, the technical definitions that have been developed, and some of the factors that are particular to environmental stewardship in the rural context. From this perspective, the benefits and barriers to environmental stewardship were assessed and some issues needing more attention in order to incorporate environmental stewardship in rural Canada were identified. The final part of the paper identified some possible opportunities for promoting stewardship in rural Canada and examined the issue of linkages of environmental stewardship to the other four policy areas the Rural Secretariat is studying. This assessment provided the NRPF with an effective starting point for policy discussions designed to help it determine an appropriate path forward for the integration of the concept of environmental stewardship.