The attack on those who try to conserve our environment in the face of overwhelming industrial development continues to ramp up.
In Alberta, it’s almost par for the course that environmental groups are pilloried, ignored or co-opted by the province’s more-gimmicky-than-effective multi-stakeholder processes. These groups don’t have the same level of access or influence as industry, particularly the oil and gas industry, and their views are seen as antagonistic to the “business-friendly” provincial government.
But the federal government is taking things 10 steps further.
The recent hissy fit by the federal Conservatives (backed by one of their insane public relations partners, Ethical Oil) against environmental groups opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is well documented. What’s happening now is more troubling.
After opposing the existence of the Senate when he wasn’t in power, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has realized how useful it can be when stacked in his favour. And he seems to have put a whole lot o’ crazy into the chamber of sober second thought. Recently, Conservative senators launched an inquiry (basically a gabfest without teeth) into removing the charitable status of environmental groups that oppose developing Alberta’s oilsands.
It’s tied into the nonsensical argument that foreign money is being funnelled into these groups and undermining our democratic system. If that argument hasn’t been discredited for you, then I’m not sure there’s much hope. Look at the Enbridge board, look at the ownership in the oilsands and then look at the paltry amount of “foreign” money being donated to charities in Canada.
In the course of this “discussion,” Conservative Senator Don Plett, the former president of the party, suggested that these organizations would have no qualms about receiving money from “al-Qaida, the Hamas or the Taliban.”
Senator Percy Mockler, another Conservative, highlighted the environmental groups that he thinks are “evil” or “ugly,” including The David Suzuki Foundation, the Packard Foundation, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Hewlett Foundation, Ecojustice, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Tides Canada and MADD.
We’ve entered the era of anti-Canadian rhetoric, a sad and unwelcome import from the overheated political conversation south of the border. It is being used to attack an essential component of our democracy: dissent.
It’s horrifying that federal politicians in Canada are openly calling for the destruction of organizations they don’t agree with, and it’s equally horrifying that they aren’t being crucified by the public for it. Those who think this is simply a fringe element in the Senate and doesn’t reflect the views of the federal government aren’t paying attention to the rhetoric in the House and the absolute control that Harper maintains over his party.
But it’s not just name calling and insanity in the Senate that’s the problem. There are moves to legislate away the rights of pesky environmental groups and concerned citizens, clearing the way for developments without sufficient regulatory oversight and environmental consideration.
According to a recent Postmedia report, the federal government is considering sweeping changes to the Fisheries Act habitat provisions that protect Canada’s waterways, allowing projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline to proceed. The government denies the claim.
The Postmedia article quotes a ministerial briefing note that says the habitat protection legislation is one of the most frequent triggers of federal assessments under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Naturally, that makes it a problem.
We are losing not only our ability to have civilized debate about important issues in this country, but we are facing a full-scale assault on our democratic freedoms. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s fitting. The fact that our government so openly supports unrestrained industrial development is problematic, but not surprising or dangerous. What is dangerous is that it is actively attempting to silence critics.