In Harper’s Canada, environment takes back seat to oilpatch

Letter: Canada was wrong to withdraw from treaty on desertification by Sharen McDonald, April 1, 2013, The Montreal Gazette
Our sincere appreciation to Stephen Maher for his succinct and informative summary of the actions taken by our federal government “to the detriment of other, legitimate interests.” Among the eight points he mentions, the most recent one surely ought to alarm all Canadians. The story, also mentioned on page A15, (“UN laments Canada’s treaty withdrawal”) was the quiet withdrawal of our country from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. Canada is now the sole country in the world to abandon this convention to combat the spread of drought and save precious water. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was quoted during question period in the House of Commons stating that Canada’s annual contribution of $350,000 is “not an effective way to spend taxpayers’ money.” As opposed to a more effective use of our taxes by spending an almost identical amount for C-17s to fly two armoured cars to India for your use last November, Mr. Harper? Canadian citizens are entitled to be concerned when the prime minister acts against the country’s best interests in an international forum. Perhaps he opted for economics rather than history and missed learning about the 1930s drought in the Prairies? Whatever his reason, his unilateral decision reinforces the feeling that we are already experiencing a drought. Democracy appears to be one great lake that has dried up in Canada since the Conservatives became a majority government.

Alberta oil is the tail that wags the Tory dog, Stephen Maher writes.

In Ottawa, environment takes back seat to oilpatch by Stephen Maher, Postmedia News, March 30, 2013, Montreal Gazette
You don’t have to fit yourself out for a tinfoil hat to convince yourself that the federal Conservatives are taking their marching orders from the oil industry. … But the government goes all out to promote the industry, to the detriment of other, legitimate interests, to the point that it is reasonable to assume that it is influencing policies that it should not. Given the stealth style of the Harper government, the refusal to give honest explanations of its decisions, we must seek a pattern in its actions:

In 2011, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto accord that required us to cut our emissions of greenhouse gases.

The Conservatives have failed to introduce any measures to meaningfully reduce emissions, save copycat legislation mimicking U.S. auto standards and rules full of loopholes for coal-burning plants.

In two omnibus bills that followed the budget of 2012, the government made hundreds of changes to legislation affecting environmental protections, making it remarkably easier to get federal approval for potentially damaging resource projects and dramatically cutting the number of environmental reviews.

The government has acted to muzzle federal scientists who study anything remotely connected to climate change, requiring that they receive approval from political masters before discussing their research with the public, leading to complaints from foreign science journals and jeopardizing international scientific co-operation.

Last May, the Fisheries Department announced that it will no longer provide $2 million in annual funding to the Experimental Lakes Area, a world-renowned Ontario freshwater research facility where scientists run experiments in 58 lakes. The facility is responsible for research that helped the world understand how phosphorous and acid rain affect fresh water ecosystems. The government is negotiating with an institute that may take over the facility, but this month began demolishing the modest cabins where scientists stay in the summer to run their research. World-renowned scientist David Schindler believes the government is uneasy with research at ELA threatening oilsands developments.

Last week, Canada quietly withdrew from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, apparently to save $350,000 a year. Critics say the government wants to avoid being confronted with evidence of the impact of climate change in Africa.

This week the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy closed its doors, the victim of federal funding cuts, because it had suggested that the government ought to put a price on carbon.

Last year, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver released an open letter denouncing “environmental and other radical groups” that oppose oilsands developments, and the Canada Revenue Agency launched tax audits of environmental groups, threatening their status as charities.

In the House of Commons and in partisan advertisements, Conservative MPs attack phantom NDP plans for a “job-killing carbon tax,” warning that such a policy would destroy Canadian jobs.

There is also plentiful evidence that the government is taking the positions it does at the urging of powerful industry groups.

The lobbyist registry shows they enjoy unparalleled access to decision-makers, and documents uncovered under the access-to-information law show that policies they promote end up getting adopted.

But there is evidence that at least some players in the industry are not on board with all this stuff. The Canadian president of Royal Dutch Shell, for instance, says a carbon tax makes sense.

And it is not clear whether it is in the long-term best interest of the industry to risk Canada appearing to be an environmental pariah, since Ottawa can’t push through the pipelines the industry wants without the co-operation of other governments.

It’s not the industry’s job to balance those competing interests, and there is reason to doubt that they are pushing Ottawa to kill research on fresh water, or muzzle scientists, or avoid meetings about desertification.

In fact, if the public comes to believe the industry is exerting unwarranted influence on public policy, there will eventually be a backlash, which isn’t good for shareholders. [Emphasis added]

This entry was posted in Case Related. Bookmark the permalink.