Thursday, January 12, 2012

I know you are, but what am I?

According to Resource Minister Joe Oliver’s open letter, I’m a foreign-backed environmentalist “threatening to hijack our regulatory system to achieve my radical ideological agenda”. Really?!
Utilizing rhetoric and misleading information, the Minister tars people trying to exercise their democratic rights in hearings examining the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal as some kind of anti-Canadian force. He even denigrates our own regulatory process, already significantly weakened (or as the spin goes, “streamlined”) under the Harper regime, with false anecdotes about skating rinks [1] and misattributions of the MacKenzie Valley pipeline delays [2].
Oliver accuses anyone questioning Northern Gateway as being against all forestry, mining, oil, gas, even hydro-electricity. Who are these people? Certainly not the ones I know within the environmental movement. My colleagues are well aware that we need a balanced economy, but also know that undertaking major projects with insufficient planning and oversight leads to critical accidents with tragic consequences. This specific project could easily result in massive leaks, not to mention the catastrophic oil spills that tankers at the end of the pipeline could inflict upon a very sensitive BC coast.
Canada needs a sustainable economy, one which will provide generations of prosperity and preserve our magnificent natural wealth. Recklessly extracting fossil fuels at the fastest rate robs future generations of their share of wealth while destroying the ecological systems that keep us all alive and healthy. Vast resources exist under our feet, but that’s no reason to ignore all factors other than maximizing extraction dollars today.
As David Suzuki has noted, the goals of those who urge caution in such projects are actually pretty conservative: to live within our means, save some for tomorrow, and consider the legacy we leave for our children.
And as pointed out by Vancouver Observer writer David P. Ball, Oliver’s letter uses the same rhetorical devices as a recent speech by Syrian dictator al-Assad, painting a picture of a looming and maleficent foreign influence trying to harm Canada. Yet all sense of proportion is lost. Sure, some Canadian environmental groups have received financial support from American foundations with shared goals of environmental preservation. Yet how much money has poured into tar sands development from foreign multinationals and Chinese government-owned companies? Billions of dollars and counting. Foreign firms have bought claims to so much tar sands that I wonder if we can still call it “our” oil.
And how can we call such oil “ethical” if the ownership, decision-making, and profits fall to the same countries we deride as “unethical”? Foreign investment clearly strongly influences the federal and Alberta governments, and they seem willing to step on democratic consultations so they can stuff their pockets faster.
I’m a foreign-backed radical? Back at you, Minister.
[1] Minister Oliver claims that overbearing federal environmental assessment standards delayed the use of a frozen pond for skating for two months. In fact, it was an outdoor rink in a schoolyard, and the two months didn't delay it, as it was ready for Christmas skating. And the only reason it would need federal permission is because it is within Banff national park; but in fact all it needed was school board permission.
[2] Oliver claims it took 9 years to approve the MacKenzie Valley pipeline. Yet its application was filed in 2004 and approved in 2011, which is only 7 years. And the last year's delay was due to a disagreement on funding between the proponent and the government, nothing to do with any environmental review.

A shorter version of this was published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Joe Oliver needs to take a look in the mirror".

Update: Further analysis from the Vancouver Observer, this time comparing Oliver & Harper's messaging to McCarthyism.

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