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Calling Foul on Canada

Environment

When it comes to environmental neglect, Canada is outdistancing the competition. We have earned six consecutive “Fossil of the Year” awards, a dishonour bestowed by a coalition of 700 NGOs upon the country that contributes most to impeding progress on UN climate change negotiations. And while the “Colossal Fossil” designation may be a tad facetious, there is no hint of humour in the recent ranking of Canada as an environmental delinquent by the Conference Board_of Canada.

That mainstream economic policy think tank just issued its biannual environment report card evaluating 17 wealthy countries on their performance in 14 different areas. Canada came in 15th, with only the US and Australia registering a poorer performance. We were rated dead last on greenhouse gas emissions, on energy intensity (the ratio of energy production and use to GDP), on the Marine Trophic Index (a measure of the health of fish stocks), on VOC emissions, and on municipal waste generation. We were second to last on water withdrawals as well as on nitrous oxide and sulphur oxide emissions.

So Canada is already down there among the class dunces in environmental studies, and the Harper government is busy securing our future as an environmental vandal with its relentless demolition of environmental regulation and research and its unscrupulous allegiance to the agenda of the oil and gas industry. Another recent story has confirmed – unsurprisingly – the extent to which Harper & Co. do the bidding, to the letter as it were, of the fossil fuel companies.

Greenpeace used access to information laws to obtain a copy of a December 2011 letter sent to Environment Minister Peter Kent and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver by the Energy Framework Initiative (EFI), a who’s who of fossil fuel traffickers including: the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute and the Canadian Gas Association. Their letter urges the government to modify (read vitiate) a series of environmental laws on the grounds that the basic approach of prohibiting harm embodied in existing legislation is “outdated.”

In a notable bit of business doublespeak, they_write: “environmental legislation is almost entirely focused on preventing bad things from happening rather than enabling responsible outcomes. This results in a position of adversarial prohibition rather than enabling collaborative conservation to achieve agreed common goals.” We get the drift.

The existing laws explicitly targeted in the letter are the National Energy Board Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Species at Risk Act, and the Migratory Birds Convention Act. What do these laws have in common? In the interest of environmental protection they all posed some obstacles to pipelines and mines, and they were all undermined by the Harper government in the wake of that letter. When it comes to fossil fuel floggers, Harper’s motto is “ask and ye shall receive.” Of course, the letter must also be set in the larger context of a gargantuan lobbying effort on the part of the petroleum pushers. In a December 2012 report examining the unprecedented scale and strength of that lobby and documenting the cozy relationships between key lobbyists and government, the Polaris Institute concludes: “The Canadian state is in the process of being fundamentally altered by the petroleum industry through lobbying. Consequently, the role of the state is being rejigged to operate in favour of the resource sector and the petroleum industry in particular, thereby increasingly transforming the political order of Canada into that of a petro state.”

The fossil-fuellers’ pipeline to the PMO and other spheres of government augurs the ongoing weakening of environmental regulation, relegating Canada to the status of a rogue state when it comes to environmental protection and climate change mitigation.

Let’s hope Greenpeace’s Keith Stewart is borne out in his belief, expressed in a January 9 blog post, that “when governments become cheerleaders for industry, Canadians step up to protect the environment themselves. The result is that the harder the Harper government tries to push through new tar sand mines and pipelines, the stronger the opposition becomes.”

This article appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of Canadian Dimension (50th anniversary issue).

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