Harper's War on the Environment

If someone were proposing a toxic dump on the property next to mine, ignoring the scientific studies indicating it would poison the ground water and give me and my kids diseases (all the while telling me it was the key to prosperity and competitiveness and that I was anti-Canadian for opposing it) I'd be up in arms.

Even if it was going to employ 50 people.

If they told me I was a radical for holding meetings in my local school or library, or said that asking folks who'd gone through the same experience in Australia for help would result in the loss of tax breaks like RRSPs, I'd say it smells a lot like fascism.

Stephen Harper tested the appetite for right-wing ideological rhetoric years ago, astutely determined the bulk of Canadians weren't swallowing it, and assumed a moderate demeanor. Now he's got the power and is dismantling not only the checks and balances for environmental protection, but the mechanisms for citizen input.

Omnibus Bill C-38 will repeal the Kyoto Protocol Act, rewrite the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, cut environmental protection and emergency disaster response, block citizen and environmental groups from addressing environmental assessment hearings unless they are directly affected by the project, cut down on the time allocated to environmental assessments, give Ministers discretionary powers, and review projects only when species deemed valuable for commercial or recreational purposes are being threatened.

Not everything is opaque. Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver has been  in selling the changes as providing greater certainty to investors keen to develop Canada's vast resources. Come on in, we've removed all our hoops.

The House Finance committee is reviewing charitable funding -- claiming it has nothing to do with criticism of the Keystone and Northern gateway projects; Minister of the Environment Peter Kent implied these groups were money laundering; the CRA is auditing Tides Foundation -- branded foreign-funded radicals -- for a second time. Stephen Harper, in a successful bid to disrupt the EU vote to label the tar sands "dirty," held secret talks with U.K. PM David Cameron, lobbied EU members, and threatened a trade war if they didn't back down. The vote was delayed a year.

Environmental groups are being de-funded for being too political, while Harper spends who knows how many millions in taxpayer money flying around the world, lobbying other countries and wooing the oil industry. No politics there.

The recent establishment of  Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) made up of 12 oil sand producers and meant to look like corporate action on the environment, has a charter that doesn't mention the word protection, it talks only about environmental performance. Call me skeptical but it seems there's only one thing these corporations would be keen to collaborate on.

 Ethical Oil, a lobby group with a mission to debunk the myths about the tar sands, describes the tar sands as the "fair trade" of oil  -- like coffee beans or diamonds. My favourite line on their website is, "Countries that produce Ethical Oil protect the rights of women, workers, indigenous peoples and other minorities including gays and lesbians." You've got to love the implied link between human rights and tar sands as though those same companies aren't following the oil, but their ethical hearts.  

Ethical oil admits the tar sands cover an area the size of Florida, 140,000 sq kilometres  and emit  45 megatonnes of greenhouse gas a year but they claim that others are worse, and they won't necessarily destroy or disturb all that land.

The science  on climate change is solid, the environmental threat in extracting oil from the tar sands is clear. Harper doesn't deny it, he ignores it and is now using all the legislative and funding tools at his disposal to silence dissent.

I recently watched The Hunger Games and marvelled at the ironic similarity between the Capitol's propaganda video shown at the reaping within the film, and the lush, wholesome ad about progress, innovation, and the Canadian oil sands, that preceded the film.

We define our backyards too narrowly and allow others to define progress and prosperity for us. This problem is not just for David Suzuki and a handful of overworked grass-roots organizations to solve. It's not simply about the environment. What kind of disaster will it take, how many freedoms and safeguards need to be lost, before we take action?


funny how these "ethical oil" people fail to mention that eastern canada imports up to 90% of its oil from such unethical places as saudi arabia, algeria and iraq.


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