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Environment cuts across political lines

One of the more annoying notions in politics is that you have to have certain view on certain issues simply because of your general political beliefs. It just ain't so.

One of the more annoying notions in politics is that you have to have certain view on certain issues simply because of your general political beliefs.

It just ain't so.

Through the years, I've met tonnes of New Democrats or socially oriented Liberals that happened to be pretty shrewd and successful private business people or investors. And when it comes to true fiscal conservatives in government, you'll find no better definition of the term than Allan Blakeney or Roy Romanow.

Conversely, you'd be surprised to know how many conservative businessmen are philanthropic, generous and sincerely concerned about the well-being of those less fortunate than themselves. Equally surprising is how many seemingly conservative-minded people have very liberal views on social matters.

The even more annoying notion is the view of one side of the political spectrum or the other that they somehow own a particular issue. This hasn't worked when Conservatives have tried to claim to be the party of fiscal prudence - especially after running up big deficits.

And it sure doesn't work when New Democrats try to proclaim themselves as the only true stewards of the environment and nature.

In fact, the finest environmental work in this province on nature conservancy was actually started by the former Progressive Conservative of Grant Devine. Under the determined guidance of the Parks and Natural Resources Minister Colin Maxwell more than a quarter century ago, the Devine PC introduced one of the most groundbreaking natural resources bills this country had seen in the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act.

What made this bill so successful was the buy-in from ranchers who took it upon themselves to be the guardians of the land that was serving the dual purpose of cattle grazing and habitat preserve.

While this might come as a shock to many who live by pre-conceived views of how certain people are suppose to view certain issues, it won't surprise most rural people. Those who remember Colin Maxwell will remember him to be a Conservative with an unparalleled passion for nature - a lifetime member of the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation who went on after politics to become executive director of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

More to the point, though, those from rural Saskatchewan will already know that some of the most passionate naturalist and environmentalists around are our cowboys who simply love the land.

But equal credit should actually go to the former NDP administration that grew the protected land under the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act to three million acres from about one million acres when they came into office. While the NDP's record on the environment wasn't exactly perfect (the North Battleford water problem and the failure to clean up northern uranium mine tailings are two issues that come to mind), there is no doubt that New Democrats were equally good stewards of the land.

Now fast forward to today's Saskatchewan Party government and current Environment Minister Nancy Heppner who sees little problem with moving this land out of the legislative protection of the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act and even less problem with deeming 300,000 acres of a land that she alone as minister can decide is of "low ecological value" and appropriate for sale.

This is what her proposed changes to the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act will do. And the issue isn't so much that the ranchers who are currently caring for this land will stop caring for it. The issue is that this land - much of it donated for the purpose of preservation - could one day fall into the hands of someone not inclined to be quite so caring.

Sadly, Heppner seems to be playing into the hands of those who view conservative-minded politicians as bad environmental stewards.

And that's a disservice to all those conservatives who truly demonstrated environmental stewardship.

Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 15 years.