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General · 18th September 2010
Ethan Baron, The Province
Social media are a key part of BC environment ministry shuffle, September 15, 2010

Tweet tweet: The provincial government is moving away from trying to reduce environmental impacts in favour of social-media outreach and do-it-yourself environmental protection. The move comes as part of a massive and secretive Ministry of Environment reorganization, revealed in a leaked memo.

"It is clear we can no longer spend so much of our time responding to specific projects and trying to mitigate negative impacts," says the memo sent Monday by deputy minister Doug Konkin to all staff.

"Future success depends on accelerating the shift to proactive environmental management; on using social media and finding more ways to get manufacturers, proponents and society to protect the environment."

This sea change, unannounced to the public, but effective last Monday, centralizes the four major ministry departments – environmental protection, environmental stewardship, water stewardship and parks – into two new divisions.

No ministry jobs will be cut, but some staff may be moved to other functions, ministry spokesman Suntanu Dalal says in an email to The Province, confirming the contents of the Konkin's memo.

Konkin, in his memo, says the change is not about money. "We do face further budget reductions next year but need to address those by changing work processes and systems, not by reorganization."

The memo was leaked to the Wilderness Committee. The group's spokeswoman, Gwen Barlee, said there are no more efficiencies to be gained in a ministry that has seen staff and funding halved since the Liberals took power in 2001.

"The Ministry of Environment doesn't need more reorganization, it needs more funding and it needs more staff and it needs better environmental laws," Barlee said. "We don't have the hydrologists or the biologists or the environmental scientists on the ground enforcing the few laws that we have remaining."

Konkin's reference to "market-based instruments" and reliance on social media suggest the government will reduce oversight and hand industry an increasing role in environmental management, Barlee said.

"It's not adequate to leave the management of the environment to Twitter and Facebook and to market-based approaches, which means logging companies and mining companies telling us the right ways and the wrong ways to manage the environment," Barlee said.

The ministry hasn't developed specific plans for using social media. The changes will not result in reduced environmental protection, Dalal said in his email to The Province.

Coming from a government that has laid waste to environmental-protection budgets, it's hard to believe this change is not about the money -- likely, it's preparation for staff cuts next year.

As for B.C.'s salmon, wolves, bears, caribou and other creatures, it looks like they better make like the birds, and learn how to tweet.