Thursday, May 17, 2012

We need our NRTEE

The root of good, democratic government is the idea that the public are best served by having input into decisions that affect them. In a diverse, pluralistic society like Canada, with so many different regions, cultures, and industries, it’s even more important to draw from a wide cross-section of the populace in crafting policy. Plus, as our world becomes ever more complex, the role of independent, non-partisan, expert advice is crucial.
That’s why the government, in past years, set up a variety of arm’s-length advisory bodies, such as the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE). Canada’s cultural and economic history is deeply tied to our environment. Our identity is locked up with images of forests, lakes, mountains, farms, and wildlife. (Just watch the national anthem films shown at TV station sign-off or movie theatres and you’ll know what I mean). Founded on fur and lumber and other natural products, even today our economy depends heavily on our environment; clearly we must maintain a healthy ecology while we work to improve our economy.
And this was a challenge the NRTEE tackled head on. Drawing together distinguished experts from politics, industry, and science, their specialty was crafting in-depth studies to help politicians plan public policy. A diverse bunch themselves, they worked together very well, and managed to reach strong consensus. Most of all, each member was very committed to Canada’s best interests – I know, because I personally knew at least three NRTEE members, including a former Chair and two Vice-Chairs.
But the NRTEE has fallen prey to the insecurities of the Harper Government, which is determined to silence any dissenting voices. With a ruling mandate from fewer than 40% of Canadian voters, the Harper government has adopted a liquidation sale attitude toward our natural resources. In the name of making a fast buck, they bulldoze over any potential source of objection, especially to tar sands expansion and the associated new pipelines. Sincere respondents at environmental assessment hearings (including myself) are dismissed as radicals, charities are accused of laundering foreign money, and advocates for the environment are threatened with audits and the loss of charitable status.
The NRTEE’s main sin? For years, they have consistently reported the consensus of industry and ecological experts that we need a carbon tax, and they’ve shown it’s not only affordable, but can even help our economy innovate and grow. Of course, this is heresy to Harper. The NRTEE’s politically-motivated execution comes despite the fact that the majority of its members were appointed by this current government, including three former Tory cabinet ministers! In the drive to build a total echo chamber, the Harper government isn’t satisfied merely to continue ignoring NRTEE reports; now they are terminating one of the best advisory bodies the Canadian government has ever had. It will be sorely missed.
TAKE ACTION: For ways you can help stop the budget implementation bill killing the NRTEE, visit this website.

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Ecology as important as economy restoration"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada

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