Nature Canada

Celebrating Stephen Hazell and his decades of conservation work

On the eve of his retirement, Stephen Hazell reflects on a career of shaping environmental law in Canada

In December, Nature Canada’s director of policy and general counsel, Stephen Hazell, will retire after a career spanning decades of conservation work and fierce advocacy for nature.

We are sad to see him leave but were happy to toast his life’s work in downtown Ottawa on November 1.

Stephen opened his remarks by thanking colleagues, and his partner, Cheryl Witoski. Then, he got straight down to business, addressing all the challenges we’re facing.

“The truth is that there isn’t much to celebrate. The true horrors of climate change and human destruction of nature are no longer theoretical. So I cannot say that my career has been a success. But allow me to share this failure with the other folks of my generation,” he told the room.

Stephen recalled that forty years ago, working as a summer student at the Canadian Environmental Law Association, scientists already knew what had to be done. Neil Young had already described “nature on the run.”

Yet collectively, we’ve done too little, and we’re now facing the consequences.

It’s the sad truth, but there’s good to be acknowledged as well. In a career spanning four decades, Stephen has shaped Canada’s environmental movement and the legal tools that now make it possible to protect nature.

In the 1980s, Stephen helped to halt the Great Whale hydro project alongside the James Bay Cree. During his time at the Canadian Wildlife Federation, he helped launch the Rafferty-Alameda lawsuit, which led directly to the 1992 Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. This law required that adverse environmental effects be considered in federal decision-making.

In 1989, he chaired the Greenprint for Canada Committee of environmental and Indigenous groups that helped persuade Prime Minister Mulroney to put together the $3 billion “Green Plan” that included a suggestion for an early carbon tax.

Later, in the early 2000s, Stephen led CPAWS during the launch of the program to save Canada’s boreal forests. Later that decade at Sierra Club of Canada, he intervened in hearings in opposition to the Mackenzie Gas Project alongside Deh Cho First Nation communities.

More recently, at Nature Canada, Stephen co-chaired the Green Budget Coalition, which in 2018 successfully advocated for a $1.3 billion federal budget commitment to protected areas and species at risk. He also played a role in the enactment this past June of the most important federal environmental law reforms in a generation.

Given the state of our current environmental situation, Stephen said, “I cannot say my career has been a success. But my conscience is clear. I did what I could within the limits of my abilities.”

Finishing his remarks, Stephen quoted Rabbi Tarphon: “You are not required to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

We thank Stephen for his decades of important, meaningful work. We’re also thankful that he plans to take Tarphon’s words to heart, and continue to work towards protecting nature.

Stephen’s entire speech can be read here. 

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