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POLIS Discussion Series on Ecological Governance

The POLIS Discussion Series is a regular event that was established in Fall 2005 with the goal of creating an ongoing space for information sharing and discussion of research and activities affiliated with POLIS to further our collective understanding of ecological governance. The primary participants are intended as affiliates of POLIS (e.g., research associates, grad students, research assistants, faculty mentors, staff, collaborators, partners, funders) but anyone interested is very welcome. The Discussion Series was established with support from the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation.


There are currently no upcoming events scheduled. Please check back later for updates to this page.


Advancing the Rights of Nature in the International Arena

Presenter(s): Linda Sheehan
Date: Nov 5, 2012
Place: UVic Campus, Room C168 Sedgewick Building


Our way of life is dangerously out of balance with Earth's systems, and flawed governance models are accelerating the increasingly serious impacts of this imbalance. To course-correct this destructive path, we must advance governance models that reflect the inherent rights of people and nature to exist, thrive, and evolve together. In this talk, Linda Sheehan will introduce and examine the concept of rights of nature. She will discuss recent efforts to develop international law and policy instruments that recognize the rights of nature, with a particular focus on the June 2012 U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, or "Rio +20."

Linda Sheehan is Executive Director of Earth Law Center, where she works to develop new laws and governance models that acknowledge the natural world's inherent rights. Among other efforts, Ms. Sheehan has successfully advanced legislative, policy, and litigation initiatives to provide water quality data to the public; curtail sewage spills; designate marine parks; improve oil spill prevention and response; and create new funding sources to ensure healthy waters. She is a Research Affiliate with the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance at the University of Victoria and a contributing author to Exploring Wild Law: The Philosophy of Earth Jurisprudence.

Ecological Governance Abroad and at Home: Water Management Lessons from Semi-Arid Brazil to Canada's "Wet" Coast

Dr. Nathalie Gravel
Kevin Reilly
Date: May 24, 2012
Place: University of Victoria, Location TBD

Dr. Nathalie Gravel is a geographer and a professor at Université Laval in Québec City. She will be presenting on her water governance research in the Brazilian Northeast. In this semi-arid region, civil society and levels of government have been working together to improve water management strategies to counter water shortages, including rainwater harvesting and efforts to reduce water demand. Nathalie will explore the paths being taken by rural communities to move toward environmental governance and ecological citizenship in this region.
Kevin Reilly is the Demand Management Coordinator for B.C.’s Capital Regional District. Bringing his local perspective, Kevin will open with a discussion regarding the Sooke Reservoir, a protected watershed that is the region’s primary water supply. He will speak about the water conservation and efficiency programs in place in and around Victoria, and how these relate to priority management issues across Canada, including water pricing, universal metering, and measurement.
SPACE IS LIMITED. RSVP to Laura Brandes at
See poster

Urban Climate Resilience and Governance

Presenter(s): Dr. Stephen Tyler
Date: Jan 19, 2012
Place: Sedgewick C168

Adaptation to inevitable climate change will require substantial investments in new infrastructure and planning approaches in cities. But future extreme climate events will remain essentially unpredictable, and historical frequencies are no longer a guide to the future, leaving engineers and planners with no good probabilistic estimates.
Rather than plan for adaptation to an uncertain future that will become more variable and dynamic, it may be more practical to build resilience as a strategic response to climate change. Resilience is a concept familiar in ecology, but also used (with a slightly different meaning) in engineering. The concept is increasingly being applied to complex socio-ecological systems, but it is not well defined.
This talk introduces a conceptual framework for climate resilience in cities, which are more directly dependent on engineered infrastructure but also indirectly dependent on ecosystems. One of the innovative aspects of this conceptual framework is that it addresses agents and institutions as distinct elements, separate from systems, providing a way to incorporate specific governance considerations as factors contributing to resilience. We consider what governance for climate resilience might look like, provide some illustrations and examples, and offer a comparison to the governance implications of conventional adaptation approaches.

Watershed Governance

Neil Deans
Alice Cohen
Date: Apr 27, 2011
Place: Room 108, Halpern Centre for Graduate Students, University of Victoria

The discussion will be moderated and introduced by Oliver Brandes, Water Sustainability Project Leader and Associate Director of the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance. Our two guest speakers are Neil Deans and Alice Cohen.

Neil Deans is manager of the Nelson/Marlborough Region of Fish and Game New Zealand and past-president of the New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society. For the last ten years, he has been involved in integrated catchment management research in the Motueka River catchment in the northern South Island. He has also been involved with collaborative governance programs associated with land and water management both locally and nationally. Neil will be giving an overview of New Zealand water resource management, law, and practice, focusing on recent developments with a collaborative governance process known as the Land and Water Forum. The Land and Water Forum was convened to make recommendations to government regarding future governance reform. It was a national collaborative exercise, involving all stakeholder interests, to try and resolve complex water management issues including water allocation and the effects of land use intensification on water quality and quantity across New Zealand.

Alice Cohen is a doctoral candidate in the Resource Management and Environmental Studies program at the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability at UBC in Vancouver. Her current research focuses on watershed-scale governance models.  Specifically, her research is concerned with the ways in which these models are taken up and implemented, as well as the practical and conceptual implications of this uptake.  This research draws on concepts from political ecology, scale, and environmental governance and management, and is specifically focused on case studies in Canada (Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia).  Additionally, Alice is engaged in transboundary water research in her capacity as a co-editor on an upcoming volume addressing Canada-US transboundary water issues.  Prior to her doctoral work, Alice completed an M.A. at UBC (2007), where her research focused on groundwater policy in British Columbia and Washington, particularly on the groundwater-dependent Gulf and San Juan Islands.  She holds a B.A (hon.) in international development and political science from McGill University (2003).


Water: Lessons from Elsewhere

Presenter(s): Bob Sandford
Date: Mar 30, 2010
Place: Room C126, David F. Strong Bldg, University of Victoria

The POLIS Project on Ecological Governance is pleased to host a special public guest lecture by Bob Sandford at the University of Victoria from 3-5 pm on March 30, 2010.

This event helps launch the Future of Water Law and Governance in Canada - a new program at the POLIS Water Sustainability Project.  Bob will share his experiences and "lessons from elsewhere" as they relate to current efforts to modernize the BC Water Act and the future of fresh water in Canada.

Bob Sandford is the Canadian Chair of the United Nations "Water for Life" Decade, a partnership initiative that aims to advance long-term water quality and availability issues.  In this capacity, Bob is the only Canadian to sit on the Advisory Committee for the prestigious Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy.  Bob is also the Director of the Western Watersheds Climate Research Collaborative, and is a current co-Chair of FLOW Canada, a prestigious national water policy expert group.  Bob's third book on water issues, Restoring the Flow: Confronting the World's Water Woes, was published by Rocky Mountain Books in the fall of 2009.

If you plan on attending, please RSVP Liz Hendriks at

The Search for Sustainability

Presenter(s): Kva Kras, President, International Lerma-Chapala Foundation
Date: Jan 19, 2009

Visiting scholar, traveller, visionary and author, Eva Kras, explores the evolution, development and potential of ecological governance to work towards achieving sustainability.  Based on ideas presented in her most recent book The Blockage, Kras draws attention to the principles and values behind policy in order to uncover the root source of problems.  Kras has twenty-five years of experience in the areas of trans-cultural management adaptations and sustainable development, and is president of the International Lerma-Chapala Foundation (an international NGO).

Watershed Governance: The Australian Experience

Amelia Loye
Kirk Stinchcombe
Jodi Dong
Date: Jun 3, 2008

The Water Sustainability Project hosted two workshops on watershed governance and water conservation programs with Australian water management professionals. Read the workshop notes: Australian Watershed Governance with Amelia Loye, The South East Queensland Drought Experience with Kirk Stinchcombe and Lessons From “The Future” with Jodi Dong.

A Critical Balance: BC Hydro's Proposed Site C Hydroelectric Dam Project

Chief Roland Willson, West Moberly First Nations
Wayne Sawchuk, Activist and Winner of the 2006 Canadian Environmentalist's Silver Medal Award
Norine Wark, Peace Valley Environment Association and founding member of Keepers of the Water
Date: Mar 4, 2008

Site C is a hydroelectric dam site and manmade reservoir project proposed by BC Hydro. If it is built, it will be the fourth dam on the Peace River. Including the proposed Site C project, the BC Peace River hydro projects will produce 40% of BC's electricity. Since the 1960's Site C proposals have been met head-to-head with public outcries supported by independent research and legal proceedings. This presentation will explore the complexity of this proposal, including projected environmental and socioeconomic impacts on surrounding communities.

Not at the Table as Beggars: Rethinking the B.C. Treaty Process

Presenter(s): Robert Morales, Chief Negotiator, Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group
Date: Dec 3, 2007

As Chief Negotiator of the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group, Robert Morales has an intimate and detailed knowledge of the treaty negotiation process in British Columbia.  Mr. Morales will speak on the state of the treaty process today, reflecting on recent developments and arguing for a new approach to treaty-making in British Columbia.  Mr. Morales argues that in the present process, First Nations too often are reduced to the role of 'beggars' at the negotiation table, and that this must change to reflect a recognition of the fundamental rights of Aboriginal peoples to land and self-determination.

Common Energy: Developing Network Governance to Move UVic Beyond Climate-Neutral

Presenter(s): James Biggar
Date: Nov 7, 2007

What kind of challenge is climate change and how do we mobilize people to respond effectively to it?

Climate change is a complex challenge involving the relationships among people in society, our energy systems, and the ecosystems that sustain us. Universities are potential catalysts for local action on climate change because they have tools to address this complexity—if academics and operations are integrated into interdisciplinary strategies that support local change. What is needed are networks of people interested in taking action on climate change and able to work collaboratively, which creates interesting new challenges related to collaborative planning and network governance.

Aboriginal water issues and ecological governance

Presenter(s): Jack Smith, Halalt First Nation
Date: Oct 3, 2007

How we steward water and how we manage our watersheds directly affects the health of people and the environment. Yet many of us are disconnected from the complex environmental, political, economic, and socio-cultural issues surrounding water. Aboriginal communities in Canada are increasingly being put in a reactive position with regard to addressing water issues and asserting Aboriginal rights in relation to adequate drinking water, flooding and mould in homes on-reserve, bathing and other cultural uses, and declining fish habitat in local rivers. The goal of this event is to explore what an ecological governance perspective can contribute to resolving Aboriginal water issues.

Water Detectives (a film screening)

Presenter(s): Heather MacAndrew, Asterisk Productions
Date: Mar 21, 2007

The Río Bravo is a mighty 3,000 km river that sustains countless communities in both Mexico and the United States. Matamoros, in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas, is the last place the river touches before it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. When the river dried up in 2000, the residents of Matamoros were left without easily-accessible water for months. In response to this crisis, the municipality went about re-educating the people of Matamoros in regards to their water usage. One innovative local initiative, the Water Detectives, has children teaching adults the importance of water conservation. Water Detectives is a short documentary featuring narration and interviews with kids who helped make a difference in their community. Today the focus may be on conserving water, but there are no limits to the sustainability issues this empowering program may inspire in these and other young agents of change worldwide.

Power in Collaborative Land Use Planning: A Look at Haida Gwaii

Presenter(s): Louise Takeda
Date: Oct 16, 2006

What are the implications of land use planning process currently unfolding on Haida Gwaii for Haida people and community control of forest resources? Louise Takeda will present a conceptual and methodological framework for understanding power in this context of ecological governance. The three-layered model combines an understanding of the microanalysis of strategies and tactics with a macro analysis of institutions and structures.  The framework will be applied to the case of collaborative land use planning on Haida Gwaii to illustrate the interplay of day-to-day agency interactions on the one hand and macro-processes of change and/or stability of social and political structures on the other, with an emphasis on understanding how oppressive relations might be changed.

How to Think About Biotechnology

Presenter(s): Bradley Bryan
Date: May 18, 2006

Innovations in biotechnology seem to present startling possibilities and equally startling risks.  To the non-specialist, biotechnology's future seems to thwart our best attempts to "get science under control."  Just how are we to think of biotechnology, and what role does law or politics have in assisting us to approach the question of biotechnology?

Collective Resource Rights and community Management: Challenges for Ecological Governance

Presenter(s): Stephen Tyler
Date: Apr 6, 2006

Experience in developing countries in Asia suggests that to improve the ability of poor communities to use common pool resources sustainability, three kinds of innovation are needed: 1) more secure access to common resources on which the poor typically depend; 2) new institutions for collective resource governance which give poor local users a greater voice; and 3) reducing degradation and increasing income through more productive techniques for resource use. These innovations are closely linked. Any one of them, on its own, will fail without the other two. The first two of these pre-requisites are issues of rights and governance, both of which are undergoing changes in BC. Using examples mainly from Asia, we will explore how participatory action research led to transformative change that had not previously been possible. Are there lessons for strategy in BC??

The Winspear Forum on Complex Systems and Community Governance

Presenter(s): Rod Dobell
Date: Feb 16, 2006

As a brief introduction to a free-thinking brainstorming session, Rod will provide background information and present an overarching conceptual and organisational framework for the idea of a UVic Forum on Complex Systems and Community Governance. Such a forum would support a virtual linkage of groups on campus who share interest in community-based research, complex systems and community governance (potentially including UVic's Centre for Public Sector Studies, Centre for Global Studies, Faculty of Business, POLIS Project, and others) with existing community partnerships such as the Clayoquot Alliance.

Commodified Property: An Unseen Religious Icon within Secularist Law

Presenter(s): Andrew Wender
Date: Jan 12, 2006

In this presentation, Andrew will reveal how modern, Western secularist law – that is, law presupposing that it has been severed from religion – is grounded, in actuality, in an unacknowledged faith that confines divinity within the material world.  Specifically, the law’s notion that all existing things can be reduced to the form of commodities property signals an implicit belief in humans’ God-like power of proprietorship and exchange over all things, a power that is continually reinforced by the presumed, inhering sacredness of the proprietary items themselves.  Andrew will emphasize how secularist law’s metaphysically all-encompassing, religious idea of commodified property is exemplified in two juridical fields of special interest to POLIS discussants: environmental law; and intellectual property law involving living organisms.

The Many Sustainable Consumers

Presenter(s): Noah Quastel
Date: Nov 28, 2005

Noah Quastel views law traditionally as having worked with an interlocking system of concepts about persons (individualistic, self-interested maximizers), exchange (freedom of contract) and objects (physical objects detached from process and production methods).  He has been considering the way "process-identifying products" (such as fair trade coffee or forest stewardship council wood) suggest ways of thinking about consumer transactions and consumption that are largely absent from traditional legal thought (both theoretic and as found in actual laws). His main argument is that green consumption implicitly involves a new conception – person as relational, exchange as involving our "metabolic relations with nature" and commodities as networks of people, places and ecologies. The challenge for sustainable consumption is one of how to move towards these ideals in the face of a legal and economc system designed otherwise. In his presentation, Noah will consider different concepts of the "consumer" that underlie alternative approaches to consumption policy.

Privatization and the Public Domain

Presenter(s): Shiri Pasternak
Date: Oct 20, 2005

Shiri Pasternak is coordinator of the "Forum on Privatization and the Public Domain" The vision of the Forum is to deepen current public discourse on privatization, often limited to single-issue complaints, as well as to explore alternative models to both nationalism and corporatism in thinking through the meaning of the "public domain" and "commons." What are some of the theoretical and practical challenges to this vision?