Sometimes you just don’t want to be right.
In the Sierra Club Canada national office we are busy preparing our 2011 annual report. As I go through my files from last year (wow – we certainly were busy) I came across an email that rattled me. It was the last email I sent to supporters in December. In it I outlined the disturbing developments we saw in 2011 and what I thought it all meant.
Much like watching troop movements across the frontier, I could see an impending invasion. The email, in fact, documented the beginnings of an all-out assault on environmental protection in Canada - and the protectors. We could see signs of it coming a couple of months earlier (I mused about it in my blog).
After several months of front-line scrimmages and saber-rattling, and then the now-infamous “radicals” rant by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, the troops came storming across the border last Thursday. The war was officially declared with the federal budget. We don’t have all the details yet, but we can expect them to be worse than what we’ve heard.
War analogies may be going too far, but I am at a loss to put the budget into a different context.
We know significant changes are coming to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act with a single stated goal: speed approvals of mega-energy (Tar Sands) projects, Canadians-be-damned. Hard time-limits will be imposed on future mega-project reviews, while at the same time gutting resources of the agencies involved in reviews.
This will greatly hurt the public's ability to participate in project reviews and will prevent a full understanding of social, economic and environmental impacts. Environmental assessments need to be thorough, consultative and science-based. Creating hard-time limits and rushing the process will prevent this from happening, and it wasn’t an accident. Nothing will stop or slow down the Northern Gateway Pipeline now.
Of course, environmental assessment was not the only front opened last week. Environmental charities were also centered out for particular attention. In a budget full of job and spending cuts, $8 million was set-aside to conduct a witch-hunt on environmental charities. Did some groups overstep the bounds of political activity? Who knows - I seriously doubt it. I’m pretty sure I didn’t. But that’s not what it’s about - it’s about tarring (pardon the pun) all environmental charities, especially those who use the term “Tar Sands”.
It’s a lot about intimidation, of course, designed to give environmental charities pause before they support those who might have the gall to speak-out in defense of the environment. And it’s a diversion - it’s hard to campaign with government auditors in your meeting room pouring through your files, asking endless questions (though I did find it sort of fun when they came in to cross-examine me, but work stood-still for a week). But it’s also a distraction from the real issues, like the Tar Sands.
What concerns me most is more fundamental. Non-profit organizations rely on the basic rights of a free society. Last week, our freedom to speak, our freedom to assemble and our freedom to participate were curtailed. We are less free today and all Canadians should be concerned.
John Bennett, Executive Director
Sierra Club Canada