Read this story from CBC.ca on the lingering questions from its readers relating to the resignation over the weekend of Stephen Harper's Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright. (May 20, 2013)
CBC readers were left with several questions following news that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, stepped down on Sunday. His resignation followed revelations that he wrote a $90,000 cheque to repay improperly claimed housing expenses for Senator Mike Duffy.
"My actions were intended solely to secure the repayment of funds, which I considered to be in the public interest, and I accept sole responsibility," Wright said in a statement.
"I did not advise the Prime Minister of the means by which Sen. Duffy's expenses were repaid, either before or after the fact."
The announcement came as something of a surprise to many observers, as the Prime Minister's Office insisted as recently as Friday that Wright had the "full confidence" of the prime minister and would be "staying on."
Many felt that Wright's statement and Harper's response to it were vague at best, and evasive at worst. The questions began pouring in on Sunday.
'I did not advise the prime minister of the means by which Senator Duffy's expenses were repaid, either before or after the fact,' said Wright. Careful words. Exact words. Keep in mind his legal background. Who did he advise? If Wright wanted to say that Harper didn't know, he would have said so . . .There are way too many unanswered questions . . . We don't need PR or spin, we need the unvarnished truth,"- the crucible
"I would really like to know why Nigel Wright felt the need to give Duffy a personal cheque," - mettaulysse
"If his intention was to secure the repayment of funds in the public interest, why didn't he repay the money for all the senators involved?" - pat1959
Several expressed concern over the timing of the issue, noting that the announcement happened on the Victoria Day weekend, and that on Tuesday Harper will fly out to Peru for a trip that will last until the end of the week.
A handful even took the longer view and pushed for the issue to be resolved before the summer recess, which is currently scheduled to begin on June 21.
"This is happening at an inconvenient time for the rest of us because soon everyone in Harper's caucus, including himself, will disappear for the summer," said Freudian's Slip
Senator Mac Harb resigned from the Liberal caucus last week after he was ordered to repay $51,000 in housing and mileage claims by a Senate committee, and some readers feel that he hasn't been subjected to enough scrutiny.
"When is Harb Mac paying his money back?"said guystone. "Where is his money?,"
"It's not just CPC senators...Liberal Mac Harb is in big trouble too." said Malabar Front
If Canadians knew the full extent of the Harper government’s war on science, they would be clamouring for the reinstatement and full funding of dozens of federal scientific programs and hundreds of scientists axed over the past year. Since the passage of omnibus budget Bill C-38, the Harper Cabinet has moved at blitzkrieg speed to make these cuts.
Canada’s Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault, agreed at the end of March to launch an investigation into the extensive muzzling of federally-funded scientists at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada and other federal agencies (1). Her decision comes after a February 20th complaint formally filed by Democracy Watch in partnership with the Environmental Law Clinic of the University of Victoria, which called for a full investigation and was accompanied by a 128-page report, Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy. That report documents systematic silencing since 2007 of federal scientists involved in research on climate change, the Alberta tar sands, fish farms, and other areas (2).
But the muzzling of scientists is only one aspect of Harper’s war on science. Far more troubling is the actual elimination of scientific programs and the firing of scientists. Jim Turk, director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, puts it well: “The Harper government wants politics to always trump science. It wants its political views to dominate even if science shows that it’s wrong.”
The NDP’s Megan Leslie is even more caustic: “This government has abandoned evidence-based policy-making to pursue its own brand of policy-based evidence-making.”
The New Inquisition
According to information provided to me in March by the Professional Institute of Public Service Canada (PIPSC) - the union which represents federal scientists and other professionals employed by 38 federal government departments – 5,332 of their members have already either lost their jobs or been transferred to other duties. That number includes 139 scientists/professionals at Environment Canada (cut by $53.8 million), and 436 scientists/professionals at Fisheries and Oceans (already cut by $79.3 million, with $100 million more in cuts announced in the latest March 2013 budget). Thousands of unionized support staff have also been cut from these, and other, departments.
Harper claims that his drastic cuts to most federal agencies are necessary in order to eliminate the deficit before the next federal election. But as business writer David Olive recently observed, “Harper’s ultra-low corporate tax [15%] deprives Ottawa of $13.7 billion a year according to Finance’s own estimates. That’s enough to wipe out the deficit in two years without cutting a single program.”
Canada now has the lowest corporate tax rate of G8 member nations. Indeed, according to a 2013 study by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, of 185 countries examined, only seven countries have a lower corporate tax rate than Canada.
The DFO has been especially hard hit by Harper’s war on science, with three rounds of cuts and another three to come. The entire ocean contaminants research program has been axed, including laboratories and research stations across Canada. World-renowned scientists have been fired, including Dr. Peter Ross, an expert on contaminants’ effects on marine mammals.
Working out of DFO Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, BC for the past 13 years, Dr. Ross is known for his path-breaking research on dioxins in pulp mill effluent, the effects of flame retardants on beluga whales, the impacts of pesticides on wild salmon, and the effects of industrial contaminants on orca whales.
Dr. Ross told Desmog Canada, “If someone is saying that we have to cut 5 per cebt from every department, that’s one thing. But when you turn around and cut 100 per cent of a program, to me that indicates something more than fiscal restraint. It argues in favour of a targeted reduction of a program for some other reason.”
More than a dozen scientific programs important to Canada’s environment and oceans health have been targeted and dismantled over the past year, while others have been slashed to the bone (2).
The Terrible Toll
DFO’s Habitat Management Program - which monitored the effects of harmful industrial, agricultural and land-development activities on wild fish - is gone. DFO’s teams of experts on ocean contaminants in marine mammals, on marine oil pollution, and on oil spill countermeasures have all been disbanded. Gone too is the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research – the only agency with the ability to adequately assess offshore projects. Nine out of 11 DFO marine science libraries will be shut. And the Experimental Lakes Area is closed.
At Environment Canada, the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Nunavut, involved in monitoring the Arctic ozone hole discovered in 2011, has been closed. Similarly, the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, Canada’s main research foundation on climate change, has been axed. The Canadian Centre for Inland Waters – the most important science monitoring agency for the imperilled Great Lakes – has lost key staff members. Cuts to the Action Plan on Clean Water, which funds water remediation, makes communities more vulnerable to toxics.
Harper’s war on science has also eliminated the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, the independent agency that ensured fracking companies complied with regulations. And by dismantling the Smokestacks Emissions Monitoring Team at Environment Canada, the government has eliminated “the only Canadian group capable of writing and supervising credible testing methods for new and existing rules to impose limits on pollution from smokestacks”.
In other cuts that are environment-related, the Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg – which developed popular spring wheat varieties for Western Canada - is set to close in April 2014. Even the National Research Council’s world-renowned Canada Institute for Scientific & Technical Information (CISTI) has been cut drastically. These are the people who solve issues such as responding to pandemics, and maintaining food and product safety. Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology, has consistently defended the Harper government from accusations of a war on science by emphasizing the $5.5 billion that the Feds have provided to the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), including another $225 million to the CFI in Economic Action Plan 2013 released on March 21.
The Canada Foundation for Innovation
The CFI – the key decision-maker for all science funding in Canada – has a governing body of 13 members, seven of whom are appointed by the Minister of Industry (Christian Paradis). These members then select the other six members.
This governing body then appoints seven of the 13 CFI Board of Directors, receives reports from the Board, appoints auditors, approves the Annual Report, sets strategic objectives and makes final decisions about what science projects will be funded, including at universities. According to the CFI website, the Members are “similar to a company’s shareholders, but representing the Canadian public.”
But a look at the CFI Members indicates that it is a highly politicized body (including a founding trustee of the Fraser Institute) that is making the decisions about what science to support with its $5.5 billion in taxpayer dollars.
For example, CFI Co-Chair David Fung is so thoroughly embedded in China-Canada business/trade collaboration that he may as well be seen as a de facto vice-president of CNOOC (China National Offshore Oil Corp.).
The other Co-Chair, Roland Hosein, is a vice-president of GE Canada, a company that is thoroughly engaged in promoting “energy export corridors” and water-privatization efforts across Canada, including the Global Energy Network Institute (GENI) and (with Goldman Sachs) the Aqueduct Alliance.
Meanwhile, the Board of Directors of the CFI includes the president/CEO of the Montreal Economic Institute (a perennial advocate of bulk water export), and an executive for Husky Energy (whose Hong Kong billionaire owner Li Ka-Shing is buying up water/utilities around the globe).
Otherwise, both the CFI Members List and the CFI Board are packed with corporate biotechnology representatives.
So Harper’s war on science has some obvious goals, including getting rid of all federally-funded science that would impede water export, as well as any science standing in the way of aquaculture, tar sands and natural gas export.
As Maude Barlow and renowned freshwater scientist David Schindler wrote in The Star Phoenix, “The Harper government is systematically dismantling almost every law, regulation, program or research facility aimed at protecting freshwater in Canada and around the world.” Harper even killed the Global Environmental Monitoring System, an inexpensive project that monitored 3,000 freshwater sites around the world for a UN database.
The “One-for-One” Rule
In 2010, the Harper government created the Red Tape Reduction Commission, a little-known advisory body overseen by Treasury Board’s Tony Clement and packed with private-sector members. They came up with a strategy for “reducing the regulatory burden on businesses to better enable them to make needed investments in productivity and job creation.” Called the “one-for-one” rule, the measure “requires regulators to remove a regulation each time they introduce a new regulation that imposes new administrative burden on business.” The Harper government adopted the “one-for-one” rule in January 2013, with Treasury Board bragging that “Canada will be the first country to give such a rule the weight of legislation.”
Of course, the Harper government has already wiped out most federal environmental regulation with omnibus budget bills C-38 and C-45. And now, with the war on science, a few beancounters left in federal departments will be tasked with choosing which rule to eliminate if a new regulation is added.
That kind of stupidity is what has made the Harper Conservatives (and Canada) look truly medieval to much of the scientific world.
Now the Harper government is scrambling to look “green” and “scientific” in order to get U.S. approval for its Keystone XL dilbit export pipeline and to bolster various trade issues (including the Fuel Quality Directive) pending with Europe. But having axed so much environmental and climate science, including the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, and having fired hundreds of scientists across the land, the Harper Cabinet looks like nothing less than the New Inquisition dressed in a cowboy hat.
Joyce Nelson is an award-winning freelance writer/researcher and the author of five books.
(1) Information Commissioner To Investigate Muzzling of Federal Scientists
At the end of March 2013, Canada’s federal Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault, agreed to launch an investigation into the muzzling of federally-funded scientists at the departments of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Environment Canada (EC), Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and other federal agencies.
Sporadic mainstream media reports since 2008 have attempted to highlight the muzzling of Canada’s scientists, who have been prevented from giving interviews with journalists and speaking freely about their taxpayer-funded research. In February 2012 BBC News reported the findings of Canadian journalist Margaret Munro: “The Postmedia News journalist obtained documents relating to interview requests using Canada’s equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act. She said the documents show interview requests move up what she describes as an ‘increasingly thick layer of media managers, media strategists, deputy ministers, then go up to the Privy Council Office, which decides yes or no’.”
The Privy Council Office (PCO) supports and takes its orders from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), but it has a certain degree of power in its own right. The Clerk of the Privy Council is Wayne G. Wouters. The President of the Privy Council is Denis Lebel (Minister of Transport, Infrastructure & Communities; Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs; and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Quebec). There are four other Harper Cabinet Ministers in the PCO: Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government in the Senate); Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons); Gordon O’Connor (Minister of State and Chief Government Whip); and Tim Uppal (Minister of State for Democratic Reform).
Just how thoroughly Suzanne Legault will investigate this chain of command in terms of the muzzling remains to be seen.
(2) Environmental Science Axed by the Harper government (2012-2013)
Department of Fisheries & Oceans
• Species-at-Risk Program
• Ocean Contaminants & Marine Toxicology Program
• Habitat Management
• Experimental Lakes Area (Northern Ontario) *St. Andrews Biological Station (New Brunswick)
• Centre for Offshore Oil & Gas Energy Research
• Kitsilano Coast Guard Station
• Institute of Ocean Sciences (Sidney, B.C.)
• Freshwater Institute - Winnipeg
• Oil Spill Counter-Measures Team
• Canada Coast Guard
• Maurice-Lamontagne Institute (Quebec)
• Marine Science Libraries
• Environmental Emergency Response Program
• Urban Wastewater Program
• Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (Nunavut)
• Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
• Smokestacks Emissions Monitoring Team
• Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission
• National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy
• Environmental Protection Operations
• Compliance Promotion Program
• Action Plan on Clean Water
• Sustainable Water Management Division
• Environmental Effects Monitoring Program
• Contaminated Sites Action Plan
• Chemicals Management Plan
• Canadian Centre for Inland Waters (Burlington, Ont.)
Natural Resources Canada (NRC)
• Reduced science capacity for oversight and research
National Research Council
• Canada Institute for Scientific & Technical Information
• Transportation of Dangerous Goods (pipeline and tankers oversight)
• Transport Canada Aircraft Services
• Arctic Institute of North America’s Kluane Research Station
• The Global Environmental Monitoring System
• Cereal Research Centre (Winnipeg)
• Canadian Environmental Network
• Prairies Regional Office: Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
• The Research Tools and Instruments Grant Program
• Grants Programs administered by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)
• The Centre for Plant Health (Vancouver Island)
• Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health (Winnipeg)
• Horticulture Research & Development Centre (Quebec)
• Plant Pathology Program (Summerland, B.C.
• The Great Lakes Forestry Centre (Toronto)
• The National Water Research Institute (Burlington, Ont.)
It can hardly come as a surprise to anyone that governments – like corporations – employ spin to portray their actions in the best possible light (and to cast their opponents in the worst possible light). Nor is it news that many corporations – and the PR companies they employ – operate a revolving door for helpful politicians.
So, should it come as any surprise to learn, as Joyce Nelson reveals in the current issue of Watershed Sentinel, that Peter Kent was appointed as a senior lobbyist by PR giant Hill & Knowlton while he was running as a Conservative candidate in 2008?
Of course, Hill & Knowlton (the company behind Enbridge’s justifiably spoofed ‘Pathway to the Future’ ad campaign) had no way of knowing their man Kent would win his riding and be appointed as the Harper government’s environment minister in January 2011.
That said, they – and their various tar sands clients – must have been pleased with his opening salvo. As Nelson reports, within hours of his appointment Kent was telling CTV: “I’m not going to stand by while outsiders slander Canada, Canadian practices and values and our ethical oil products.”
Kent’s performance to date has alarmed many environmentalists. They point out that the oil and gas industry already has its own minister (Joe Oliver) and that Kent’s real job, as Keith Stewart of Greenpeace has observed, “is to be the champion of environmental protection within government.”
Good luck with that.
In January 2013 Greenpeace passed on to CBC News a letter (obtained through an access to information request) which revealed that in late 2011, the oil and gas industry had requested changes be made to 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.
As Nelson reports, the letter, addressed to Environment Minister Peter Kent and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, came from a group called the Energy Framework Initiative (EFI), an umbrella group for major Canadian oil, gas and pipeline associations “The purpose of our letter,” EFI wrote, “is to express our shared views on the near-term opportunities before the government to address regulatory reform for major energy industries in Canada.”
The letter continues: “The basic approach embodied in existing legislation is out-dated. At the heart of most existing legislation is a philosophy of prohibiting harm; ‘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 goals.”
Well, yes, historically the focus of environmental legislation actually was environmental protection. Apparently no more.
Nelson observes: “In a real democracy, this incriminating letter would be a major news story across the country. But in the mock democracy of Harperland, the letter has effectively disappeared.” It’s difficult to disagree with her.
Smoke and mirrors
In 1953, Hill & Knowlton launched a PR offensive designed to convince government regulators and the public that there was no provable link between tobacco smoking and cancer. A team of supposedly independent scientists (bought and paid for by Hill & Knowlton on behalf of the tobacco industry) encouraged the public to “smoke without fear”.
As Nelson reports, “that same PR strategy (and often, the same group of scientists) has since been used to challenge scientific evidence on acid rain, destruction of the ozone layer, toxicity of DDT, second-hand smoke, and climate change – thereby delaying regulatory action, muddying the science, and confusing the public on environmental issues. Under this strategy, established science becomes just another competing ‘side’ in an issue, while corporate financed scientific studies or bought scientific opinion are granted equal weight by the media.
“But in Canada, that time-tested Hill & Knowlton PR strategy is being taken much further by the Harper cabinet itself, including Peter Kent, with government scientists being muzzled, fired en masse, and even their research facilities dismantled and destroyed.”
The line between spin doctoring and propaganda (assuming there is one) can be so fine as to appear invisible.
Joseph Goebbels once infamously stated: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
The Nazi propaganda minister went on to say, even more chillingly: “The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” (Emphasis added.)
The following letter to The Common Sense Canadian came from the office of John Weston, Conservative MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, in response to Rafe Mair's January 28 column. See Rafe's further reply below.
In Rafe Mair’s article “Environmental 'Process' a Myth in Stephen Harper's Canada”, published on January 28th, 2013, he makes many contentious accusations. Regrettably, he has adopted an extremist position, rejecting a Northern Pipeline in principle, no matter what the cost to the community, to jobs, to our country, or to our economy. When asked at a gathering in North Vancouver where I heard him speak, he rejected out of hand that a Northern Pipeline should be built, under any circumstance. For my part, I maintain an open mind; call for a robust environmental assessment process; and would support a pipeline only if demanding environmental safeguards are in place.
Extremists are sometimes tempted to engage in personal attack rather than to focus the debate on the principles at hand. It saddens me to observe Rafe not only adopt an extremist position, but also to yield to that temptation in his January 28th piece. Over the years, I have expressed my admiration for him, when I worked for him as BC Minister responsible for Constitutional Affairs; when he took a stand on Senate Reform, that I still endorse today; and when he performed so passionately as one of our Province’s most listened-to talk show hosts. I still admire Rafe for his knowledge and the conviction of his beliefs.
But I regret it when he undermines his own credibility and respect by reducing important arguments, about the environment and other things, to personal attack. He can still be a strong voice of influence in our Province without stooping so low.
Rafe Mair responds:
Of course I'm an extremist when it comes to preserving our environment, as I would be defending my wife and family.
John continually ignores the fact that spills from the proposed Enbridge line and consequent tanker traffic are not "if" but "when". Even the federal Environment Department tells us that - not to mention Enbridge itself.
BEING AGAINST A PROJECT THAT IS BOUND TO SPILL, WITH HORRENDOUS CONSEQUENCES FOR MY PROVINCE, YOU'RE DAMNED TOOTING I'M AN EXTREMIST.
This applies equally to Kinder Morgan and its proposal to massively ramp up oil tanker traffic through Burrard Inlet.
What is the process Weston suggests for once sacred fish habitat? The same appalling process that contaminates the "run of river" and Gateway exercises? Why won't Weston be honest (a matter I will return to) - and admit that in the case of Gateway and presumably Kinder Morgan the Minister and Prime Minister has said they will go ahead regardless of what the Joint Review Panel recommends. These are like "Soviet show trials" - first the decision, then the process; done deals are given a fake process to make them look good.
Now as to Weston's "honesty".
At this very meeting Weston made it appear he was supporting "process". There is no other word for that - he was lying through his teeth. He wouldn't utter a peep because it was stuck inside the Budget Bill, thus beyond the ability of the parliamentary poodles in the Conservative Party to speak against it - no matter what was in it.
This bundling of a contentious issue within the budget is a parliamentary disgrace as Weston well knows and he is a part of it. Weston voted for Bill C-38 because if he did not, he would say farewell to a hoped-for cabinet post - but even more, he would have been tossed out of caucus, thus out of politics. (If anyone is in doubt, just google John Nunziata)
John Weston did not support the removal of habit protection out of any personal principle but because he put party and his own political survival ahead of protection of our sacred fish. In short, when Weston told the meeting he was supporting the bill on principle, he was LYING.
I must remind Weston that when he sought my advice as to whether or not he should run, this was the very conundrum I warned he would constantly face.
I might close by saying that I couldn't believe Weston's abysmal ignorance of the 7 species of salmon we have on this coast. He represents a coastal riding and he knows nothing about the very soul of our province, not to mention the staple food of many First Nations.
If Weston would like to debate this issue with me I would be delighted.
Systems are always bigger and more complex than the individuals who try to control them. So political systems, like ecological ones, can be influenced and guided for a while by the stringent and obsessive management of details, but the intricate convolutions within their countless interacting parts eventually expose the futility of such effort. This is now becoming apparent in the present Conservative government in Canada under the authoritative — some say autocratic — leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The Prime Minister is known for his propensity to control, a predilection that includes his caucus, parliament and the research studies from every scientist in the employ of the federal government. All information is vetted through his office, the PMO, to be certain it conforms to the message and the image he wants to portray of himself as a rational and competent manager of the nation's business. But this strategy ultimately fails because even the most fastidious control can never match the complexity of systems. Like trying to prevent water from flowing downhill, pressures build, leaks occur, the ground saturates, and the whole containment effort finally collapses.
An extremely revealing leak occurred at the Salt Spring Forum on December 2, 2012, where Tom Flanagan, Stephen Harper's former professor, mentor, advisor and campaign manager, was invited as the featured guest — “former” because Flanagan's 2009 book, Harper's Team: Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power, ended their communication (Jane Petch in Island Tides, Dec. 13/12, p.9-10).
But Flanagan certainly communicated to his Salt Spring Island audience about someone he knows extremely well. “Stephen is very intelligent,” he said. “He's an abstract strategic thinker who translates ideas into action. He is an unusual package of characteristics. He can be charismatic in small groups, morose, secretive, suspicious and vindictive. These may not be traits you want in your next door neighbour, but they are very useful in politics.”
“He develops strategies for himself,” Flanagan confided. “He listens to his Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright, and a small group of men he has come to trust: Baird, Clements and Flaherty. He doesn't consult widely before decisions are made, and this has created problems for him.” Amazingly, Flanagan declared that he was unaware of any vision the Prime Minister had for Canada. “Stephen's allergic to laying out a vision. He's more concerned with the specifics.”
When asked about the Prime Minister's dismantling of environmental regulations, Flanagan said that “Stephen sees through an economic lens, not an environmental one.” As for ignoring the scientific evidence of climate change, Flanagan explained that, “Everyone sees evidence through different binoculars. ...It depends on what evidence you look at.” He added that he agreed with Stephen Harper's policy of “appearing to make a difference without actually changing anything.”
Such a policy reveals a noteworthy fallacy. If the Prime Minister is attending only to details without being guided by a larger strategy, then how can he control outcomes? All his decisions and legislation suggest he is having a profound effect on Canadian politics. His efforts to spend Canada out of the Great Recession of 2008 have committed the treasury's finances to massive deficits. His prorogation of parliament to avoid a vote of non-confidence has left an indelible scar on the country's democratic psyche. His citation for contempt of parliament has created unprecedented cynicism in the House of Commons. His disregard of overwhelming scientific evidence for climate change and environmental deterioration now appears like petulant, stubborn and abject denial — an international embarrassment and a neglect tantamount to criminality. His omnibus budget bills, C-38 and C-45 that avoided parliamentary debate on a host of new laws, have created a bitter electorate.
Perhaps the Canadian public has become accustomed to the shock of the Prime Minister's political tactics. But environmentalists and scientists have reacted with incredulity and dismay. And First Nations across the country, already extremely tense and enormously frustrated by the lack of respect for their rights and interests, have been unwilling to tolerate the trespasses included in C-38 and C-45.
First Nations, mythologically and traditionally, have always lived close to nature. It is the foundation of their history, culture, security prosperity and future. So they duly interpreted the wholesale relaxation of regulations in the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Environmental Assessment Act, the National Energy Board Act and the Indian Act as assaults on their interests. These measures also violated Section 35 of Canada's Constitution Act (Island Tides, Jan. 17/13). The pending investment agreement with China, FIPA, and a proposed free trade agreement with Europe, CETA, also challenge First Nations' rights. Their response was “Idle No More”, a diverse and amorphous uprising against an authoritarian government that failed to consult with them — just as it failed to consult with parliament.
The Idle No More activists are correct in claiming that their protests are not just for themselves but for all Canadians. The omnibus measures in C-38 and C-45 that show a contemptuous and autocratic disregard for legally binding treaty obligations parallel the Prime Minister's disregard for Canada's democratic and parliamentary traditions, a matter that should be of concern to every citizen of this country.
The Idle No More movement is so diverse and amorphous that it will be difficult to control by the Prime Minister and his powerful PMO. Such a vague and unfocused opponent will be an elusive target for Stephen Harper's vindictiveness. A restless and evolving movement with a wide range of demands will be impossible to manipulate with his secretive strategies. So Stephen Harper's suspicious nature will be forced to confront a dilemma of his own making. Charisma is not going to solve this problem. And if frustration should activate the morose streak in his character, he can stew in it until the end of First Nations' patience — which could be a very long time.
Read this story from CBC.ca on a letter obtained by Greenpeace through an Access to Information request which demonstrates the oil and gas industry requested and received many of its desired changes to Canada's environmental laws through Conservative Omnibus budget bills. (Jan 9, 2013)
A letter obtained by Greenpeace through access to information laws and passed on to the CBC reveals the oil and gas industry was granted its request that the federal government change a series of environmental laws to advance "both economic growth and environmental performance."
Within 10 months of the request, the industry had almost everything it wanted.
The letter, dated Dec. 12, 2011, was addressed to Environment Minister Peter Kent and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. It came from a group called the Energy Framework Initiative (EFI), which is made up of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute (now the Canadian Fuels Association) and the Canadian Gas Association.
"The purpose of our letter is to express our shared views on the near-term opportunities before the government to address regulatory reform for major energy industries in Canada," wrote the EFI.
The letter specifically mentions six laws that relate to the oil and gas industry's ability to do its work:
National Energy Board Act.
Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
Navigable Waters Protection Act.
Species at Risk Act.
Migratory Birds Convention Act.
On Jan. 9, 2012 (less than one month after the letter was written), Oliver wrote an open letter accusing environmentalists and other "radical groups" of undermining the Canadian economy.
On April 26, 2012, the government introduced the first of its omnibus budget implementation acts which completely re-wrote the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and made major changes to the Fisheries Act and the National Energy Board Act.
On Oct. 18, 2012, the government tabled its second omnibus budget implementation act, which replaced the Navigable Waters Protection Act (one of the oldest pieces of Canadian legislation) with the Navigation Protection Act.
On January 2, 2013, hundreds of First Nations and non-indigenous people converged on Vancouver's Waterfront Station for the latest Idle No More rally. The beating of drums and singing of traditional songs signaled this crowd's solidarity with the movement that is building across the country and beyond its borders. "This isn't just because we want to go out there and sing songs and protest. This is for our land, this is for our future," young Ben Paul from Tsartlip First Nation on Vancouver Island told the crowd.
CBC's Power and Politics has chosen "energy politics" as the top Canadian news story for 2012 and we at the Common Sense Canadian couldn't agree more.
Energy is the current which runs through a diverse array of issues presently reshaping our country - from omnibus budget bills that have slashed environmental regulations, to foreign trade deals, changes to our labour rules and, perhaps most significantly, the growing mobilization of First Nations, supported by non-aboriginal Canadians, to oppose many of these initiatives.
2012 was a year that began with Conservative Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver dismissing opponents of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines as "radicals" and ends with the Idle No More rallies sweeping the nation - with support coming in from as far away as Buckingham Palace (or just outside its gates, anyway).
It was a year when two very different visions for the future of Canada and its place in the world collided headlong with each other. One seeking to curb the Tar Sands and new arteries essential to its growth, the other striving to make Canada into a new Saudi Arabia - provider of oil, gas and coal to emerging Asian markets.
Each policy piece from the Harper Government was part of a bigger puzzle, designed to bring its new vision to fruition.
There was the first omnibus budget bill, C-38, which gutted the Fisheries Act, watered down environmental assessment processes and slashed ministry staff in monitoring and enforcement. The Common Sense Canadian published retired senior DFO scientist and manager Otto Langer's first warning of these intended changes to the Fisheries Act, which unleashed a media firestorm and spate of denials from senior Harperites.
We also published the sad farewell letter from one of the world's top marine pollution experts, Dr. Peter Ross, who lost his job when the Harper Government essentially canned our entire ocean monitoring program. Even one of the world's top monitoring stations for climate change and arctic ice melt, PEARL, could not escape this government's ax (for a savings of a whopping million and a half a year).
Clearly, these changes grew out of and helped to further a "see no evil, hear no evil" approach to climate science that is critical to the Harper Government's hydrocarbon expansion agenda - which also demanded the smoothing of those pesky regulatory hurdles for resource project development.
The NDP has been all over the map on these issues, initially getting behind fracking, new pipelines and LNG plants with few reservations, then, recently, showing signs of feeling some of the public pressure building around these issues. This was evidenced by an op-ed in the Georgia Straight, co-penned by Energy Critic John Horgan and Environment Critic Rob Flemming, promising "a broad public review of fracking" and "immediate changes to protect B.C.’s water resources".
The party appears caught between the growing concerns about fracking and LNG and a desire not to appear to be too "anti-business" or ignore an opportunity to reboot the BC industry and close the budget gap with increased royalties and related revenues. It will be very interesting to see where the NDP goes on this file in 2013.
Take Mulcair's rendering of the "Dutch Disease" into a Canadian household term. The concept, supported by the OECD and other highly reputable economic institutions and economists, holds that the downside of a petro-state economy is artificial currency inflation, which leads to the hollowing of a nation's manufacturing sector. New jobs in Fort MacMurray mean layoffs in Hamilton. The fact Mulcair was able to get the traction he did with this discussion and to lodge it - even a little - in the national consciousness is a testament to his oratory skills, political sensibilities, and willingness to take some risks to differentiate himself from Harper. Mulcair also helped to re-frame pipeline politics, opposing Enbridge but getting behind the notion of shipping bitumen East (the source of another emerging public energy debate).
But the reach of energy politics extended far beyond provincial and national borders this year, as the Harper Government negotiated a new trade deal with China, ostensibly to stimulate investment in Canadian energy resources. The Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FIPA) came under great scrutiny - particularly in these pages - for eroding Canadian sovereignty and enshrining much diminished environmental protections as the law of the land for years to come.
The Harper Government's labour policy seems designed precisely to encourage situations like the one at Murray River, directly undermining the government's "jobs" rhetoric around resource development.
Likely as a result of all this scrutiny, Harper has delayed on ratifying the Chinese FIPA. A campaign led by social media-driven public advocacy groups Leadnow.ca and Sumofus.org generated over 80,000 petition signatures and thousands of letters and submissions to government officials protesting the proposed FIPA.
It remains to be seen where the Idle No More movement goes from here. Will its intensity subside in the new year like the Occupy Movement of last year, or will it be forged into a formidable political force, crystallizing the burgeoning sense of discontent amongst many Canadians with the direction our political leaders are taking us?
2013 holds the answers to many other burning energy questions, like how the Enbridge pipeline hearings will conclude or when KinderMorgan will formally file its plans. Will this American company's experience be smoother than that of Enbridge, or will an unprecedented urban environmental movement rise up to block its path? What role will natural gas will play in BC's provincial election? Will this new energy alliance between Alberta and Quebec and the vision to pipe the Tar Sands East pan out? Perhaps most interesting, will Harper ratify or abandon FIPA and will he keep his word on nixing future foreign buyouts of Canadian energy assets?
Stay tuned to the Common Sense Canadian in the New Year to find out. Or maybe the evening of December 31st. Knowing the Harper Government, that's when all the really important changes to our national fabric will be announced.
Damien Gillis is co-directing a documentary,Fractured Land, which examines these issues in detail. Learn how you can support the film here.
Canadians are seeing red this week after a series of announcements reinforce concerns about the loss of Canadian resources and sovereignty.
The focus has been the Alberta Tar Sands, but natural gas plays are also in the mix. Four days after Stephen Harper boldly stated that the CNOOC/Nexen and Petronas/Progress takeovers marked the "end of a trend and not the beginning of one," one of Canada's largest oil and gas companies, Encana, announced a joint venture in a 4-plus billion dollar gas play in which PetroChina will have a 49.9 percent stake. A "minority" position such as this is seemingly an end-run on the "new," yet unexplained criteria dictating the level of Chinese/foreign investment the Harper government would support.
CNOOC's Nexen bid was a full takeover of a Canadian-based company with international holdings, however its mainstay is the Alberta oil patch and part of that takeover also includes a percentage of Syncrude. These companies have enjoyed years of Canadian taxpayer subsidies and support to make them profitable. The benefits of that multibillion dollar effort will now accrue to a Chinese "SOE", or State Owned Enterprise, turning Canada into what the Alberta Federation of Labour's recent detailed report describes as "China's Gas Tank".
Those supportive of foreign SOE investment in Canadian resource plays dismiss the concerns raised as unwarranted paranoia. A sort of "Reds under the bed" fear being mocked by folks like Bob Rae, outgoing liberal leader and supporter of Chinese investment. But this dismissive attitude shared by the supporters of such investment neglects the heart of the matter.
Joseph Stalin once said, "When we hang the capitalists they will sell us the rope we use," which is in keeping with the Sinopec President's view that "anything is for sale at the right price." This point is pivotal. Chinese investment by SOE's seems counter-intuitive to a "free enterprise" approach - a central plank in the ideologically driven agenda of Stephen Harper. So why does he abandon such principles along with his base and run far from the centre over to what many view as the extreme left?
It is largely due to the fact that SOEs have deep pockets and are paying real, serious, above-market premiums to snatch up Canadian oil and gas assets, which is enriching longstanding players in the patch and their investors. And it is true that they are doing so because there is profit to be made, and not simply in owning Canadian resources raw and sending them home to China.
But it's really about the age-old geopolitical game of control over the world's resources, exploiting them elsewhere while leaving one's own in the ground, as United States has historically done (however, now you will note that they too are falling prey to exploitation and export of their "Homeland" resources.) All of which will fuel the growth of China's economy into what people are proclaiming will be the world's largest economy in as soon as a decade or two.
China has a stake in many nations around the globe and the forces that historically "nation build" are at work once again in boosting China to the forefront of the world, unfortunately their model has even less trickle down to the Chinese people, as they often live in squalor and cities that could house millions remain empty.
To accommodate this agenda the Harper government has created a very attractive investment "climate" in the Tar Sands. A much-reduced royalty rate, heavy subsidies, a gutted environmental regime, paralyzed environmental assessment processes. All this while accruing decision making to the top. Cabinet (read Chairman Harper) will decide cross-border pipelines, terms of trade and investment deals, criteria for foreign investment, and he has taken measures to lock in the new legislative framework dictating resource development and exploitation for decades to come.
During the minority reign of the Harper administration, he oversaw the single largest divestiture of a "public asset" in our nation's history when he constructed the offloading and privatization of Petro Canada. The result was a gift to industry, a huge loss to Canadian taxpayers and it closed the public window we had on this industry from well to pump. Which is why Harper was so precise with his language when he approved the CNOOC/Nexen and Petronas/Progress takeovers.
Indeed, the first thing out of his mouth at the press conference announcing the approvals was, “To be blunt, Canadians have not spent years reducing the ownership of sectors of the economy by our own governments, only to see them bought and controlled by foreign governments instead." However that is precisely what is occurring, no matter how you slice it.
But Harper ignores this reality and doubles down on his bold misrepresentation of the facts, "It is not an outcome any responsible government of Canada could ever allow to happen. We certainly will not.” And they should not, Harper realizes its not what Canadians want, which is why he takes to the mike and says these things. So why does he do the exact opposite?
Foreign investment is already a serious issue in the oil and gas industry in Canada. Forest Ethics recently released a brief explaining how Canada's major oil and gas players are on average 71% "foreign owned." In fact, the major players in the patch are almost entirely foreign owned; it is only the Canadian-based companies that bring that percentage down from fully foreign ownership. But even those Canadian-based companies are owned by foreign interests in the majority. All of this equals an exodus of cash from the country, only outdone by the flow of oil, gas and other raw resources.
If Canadian companies cannot find the money to invest in the oil and gas patch, despite outgoing Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney's criticism that corporate Canada is sitting on over 600 billion dollars of "dead money" and Canadian "SOEs" needed to be sliced, diced, demonized and sold off, why are Chinese SOEs all the rage?
Jim Stanford, a highly respected, independent-minded Canadian economist, suggests the notion that Canada cannot capitalize its own resources and must therefore rely on foreign investment is balderdash. Moreover, the Conservatives still boast that Canada and its banking industry are a pillar of stability in a sea of insecurity and crashing economies. All of which runs counter to the oft-repeated cliché that "we need" this foreign investment, and is instead looking much like a foreign takeover of not only our resources but our sovereignty.
This is where the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FIPA) comes in. This government continues to claim that somehow FIPA is good for Canadian investment in China, yet there is no evidence of that. Preeminent Canadian economist Diane Francis, a polar opposite to Jim Stanford, would probably agree with him on this one, as she has suggested the FIPA should be ripped up. Meanwhile, even Canada-US free trade architect Brian Mulroney states that we are still at least a decade away from free trade with China.
So why FIPA? Why now? In corporate parlance this amounts to a "Friendly Takeover", as both entities agree there are "synergies" with the syncrude and are supportive of the entire notion, therefore it's not a hostile takeover.
In promoting this deal, the Harperites will tell you that we have dozens of other FIPAs and this one is simply just another one. However that too is very misleading. The others are largely with countries where Canadian-based companies, typically mining companies, are operating.
Once again, these companies maybe Canadian-based, but they are largely foreign-owned, and they base themselves in Canada because our legislative environment is accommodating to their agenda. Canada is to mining what Switzerland is to banking and the FIPAs we negotiated are in most cases as draconian for the less-developed nations as the Chinese FIPA is for us.
These FIPAs guarantee the exploitation of mineral rights in less developed countries, for Canadian-based mining companies, and ensure the governments are removed from the equation, unable to protect the environment or increase royalty rates. In fact, the governments are reduced to cheerleaders on the "promotion" side of these agreements. Any move to regain sovereignty, charge respectable royalties, protect the environment or impose any restrictions on unbridled exploitation is met with severe financial penalties, meted out by a new corporate judiciary established by these agreements, which works in secret and is entirely profit-motivated.
This is exactly what is happening to Canada with the Chinese FIPA.
However, a huge push back has occurred and Harper seems frozen in his tracks on this one.
After having restructured the very fabric of the nation with two omnibus bills - the largest we have ever seen - he has still not ratified the agreement. Ironically, Omnibus bills have been used very sparingly in history. In 1971 Liberals used the practice to establish the "Department of the Environment," and then again in 1982 to establish Trudeau's infamous "National Energy Program." The Conservatives fought it then and had the bill divided into eight different sections. On the other hand, Conservative governments have used the practice more. They used it once to enact NAFTA, and now twice since Harper obtained his majority - for the opposite purpose of omnibus bills of old, which established our internationally-renowned environmental practices and the nation-building, sovereignty-securing laws of Trudeau's NEP.
As we pointed out in painstaking detail here at the Common Sense Canadian, the recent Omnibus bills run contrary to the FIPA treaty process and, in our opinion, render it null and void. This could be at the very heart of the delays we are now experiencing. There were many petitions and expressions of outrage, however, the argument we forwarded was indisputable and has put the Harper Cabinet in a box. And now we have an opportunity to follow up and here is why.
If FIPA is ratified, it will mark the end of Canadian sovereignty in the oil and gas patch. It will also ensure that China becomes the major driver of activity in both oil and gas. The terms are so favourable for "Chinese investment" that it will force partnering with them on resource plays as evidenced in the recent PetroChina/Encana joint venture announcement. The FIPA offers such attractive terms that partnering with any other private companies or SOEs would put one at a disadvantage. This essentially makes the draconian FIPA terms the new de facto law of the land and not simply a bilateral investment agreement. Can you imagine the Harper government or any other government making laws - or restoring those recently stripped away - which apply to everyone but Chinese companies?
I raised these points and many others in my submission to the FIPA environmental assessment process and we encouraged you to do the same. The campaign was picked up by savvy internet politicos who run Leadnow and similar organizations. The end result was thousands of submissions to various levels of government on this issue, on top of the 100 thousand-plus petition signatures these groups garnered against FIPA. Others chimed in as well, and the result so far has been positive.
However there is still an opportunity to communicate once again our adamant disapproval of the FIPA agreement. It is important we do so in order to send a message loud and clear that we do not approve locking in subsidies, much-reduced royalty rates, much-diminished environmental processes and reduced protection for over thirty years - an eternity in terms of the timeline required to liquidate our oil and gas resources.
It may have made sense in the beginning to give the resource away and subsidize its growth, in an effort to get a capital-intensive exercise on a solid economic footing, but at a time where balanced budgets elude us, debt is racking up at any amazing pace and our standard of living is eroding, we cannot afford to allow these conditions to persist so long into the future. It will spell our demise.
Comments on this report may be sent by email, mail or fax to:
Environmental Assessments of Trade Agreements Trade Agreements and NAFTA Secretariat Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada 125 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2 Fax: (613) 992-9392 E-mail:
I’ve never been a member of a political party, although I did consider joining the NDP earlier this year, just so I could vote for Nathan Cullen in the leadership contest. Now I’m considering joining the Liberals, just so I can vote for Joyce Murray.
In the rarified air of Parliament Hill, where so many Opposition MPs seem to exist in an alternative reality, these two brave souls have pointed out what any sane Canadian can already see: if we want to escape from Harperland and return to something resembling the Canada most of us know and love, the NDP, the Liberals and the Greens are going to have to co-operate and run candidates strategically in the next federal election.
It is (perhaps) interesting that both these MPs are from the invisible province of British Columbia. I say “invisible” because, in the current debate about the East/West divide, it seems to have escaped the notice of many eastern commentators that there is an entire province to the west of Alberta which, by and large, does not share its eastern neighbour’s rapacious, laissez faire attitude towards the environment.
I can remember a time when American backpackers wore Canadian flag pins to make their appearance in many countries less unwelcome. Other than Israel (where our Foreign Minister’s shamefully vitriolic rejection of the Palestinian people’s statehood aspirations were very welcome indeed), I’m not sure how helpful a maple leaf is these days.
I hate feeling embarrassed about being a Canadian. And on an almost daily basis the number of reasons for embarrassment grows. No sooner had the Harper Tories rejected efforts to supply cheaper generic drugs to desperate countries, then our International Co-operation Minister was boasting about how useful the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) can and should be to Canadian mining companies and other corporations. (Anyone wondering why this is a very bad idea should read Samantha Nutt’s excellent book Damned Nations.)
If I had to pick one reason – and it isn’t easy – it would be the Harper government’s flagrant disdain for science (which, for the Prime Minister and his oil sands cronies, really is an inconvenient truth).
Denying the existence and dire consequences of manmade climate change would almost be less embarrassing than paying lip service to both, then tossing its Kyoto protocol obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions out the window, as this government has done. Then there’s the embarrassment of watching the Harper contingent swanning around this month’s climate change negotiations in Doha attempting to stymie any meaningful action by others. When pundits conclude that Canada could learn from the US on emissions reduction, you know you’re in serious trouble.
Meanwhile, back in Ottawa, following a limited debate, the number of rivers and lakes protected by the Navigable Waters Act was reduced this month from more than 2.5 million to 159.
Protection of Canada’s ocean ecosystems had already been tossed out the window with the decision by the Harper government that the primary remit of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans should be boosting fish farms. This “trade uber alles” mandate was threatened last year when the Cohen enquiry heard from Fred Kibenge of the Atlantic Veterinary College in Prince Edward Island that Infectious Salmon Anaemia virus had been found in samples of BC salmon. Kibenge predicted that he would be attacked by the government and he was right.
Unfortunately, attacking independent scientists, gagging or simply firing vexatious government scientists and gutting existing environmental legislation is not enough for this government. As Dr Darryl Luscombe warns in a recent Watershed Sentinelarticle, a primary goal of the controversial Bill C-38 is to curb the participation of an informed public in environmental reviews of contentious projects.
Neil deGrasse Tyson once said: “To be scientifically literate is to empower yourself to know when someone else is full of bullshit.” Sadly, scientific literacy does not help when your government legislates against it.
And so I appeal to the Liberals and the NDP and the Bloc and the Greens: For the sake of Archimedes and Galileo and Darwin (and all of Canada’s dedicated and currently harassed government and independent scientists), please put partisanship aside and bring back informed, civilised debate.