Volume 11, Number 1, April 2009
Obama visits the Tar Nation
U.S. President Barrack Obama’s state visit to Ottawa on
February 19 was a big victory for the global climate. President Obama made it clear to Prime Minister Harper
In his public remarks, Obama emphasized the importance of engaging in the multilateral climate negotiations leading to the Copenhagen conference in December 2009. He clearly understood the dangers of negotiating a bilateral Climate Treaty with a country headed by a Prime Minister who prior to his election had declared that “climate change was a socialist conspiracy.” Obama understood that such a treaty probably would hinder attempts to achieve a Copenhagen consensus with other countries (especially developing countries such as China and India) on the deeper cuts to greenhouse gas emissions that are needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. Canadian and American environmental groups (including Sierra Club Canada and Sierra Club U.S.) worked closely in the weeks leading up to the President’s visit to Ottawa to ensure that the tar sands and the climate crisis were a major focus of the visit. Advertisements were run and op-eds were placed in American newspapers. In three weeks, Sierra Club generated 26,000 signatures on a petition encouraging President Obama to keep moving forward on his clean energy economy agenda and say “no” to the tar sands! We delivered the petition to both the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office the day before the visit.A New York Times columnist had some travel advice for President Obama on his Ottawa visit. If Obama had some free time, he could take in the films about the tar sands and Mackenzie Gas Project.
The President would be treated to a scenic tour of the Mackenzie River, narrated by film producer France Benoit from Yellowknife. He would learn about how exploitation of the tar sands pollutes the Athabasca River, and harms First Nations communities.
Not surprisingly, Obama was unable to attend, but it is apparent that he heeded our advice found on posters all over Ottawa “Don’t Buy Our Dirty Oil!”
Meanwhile, Sierra Club Prairie was achieving great success in raising awareness about the impacts of the tar sands on Alberta’s wildlife. Thanks to Jeh Custer from Sierra Club Prairie, and Barry Robinson, Ecojustice Alberta lawyer, Syncrude may have to pay close to a million dollars in fines. The tar sands oil giant was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of ducks in a huge tailings pond last spring.
In January, a private prosecution was launched by Custer with Robinson as legal counsel to ensure that Syncrude would be held responsible after a flock of ducks mistook its massive tailings pond north of Fort McMurray for an actual lake (see Sierra Club Canada vs. Syncrude).
A Message from the President
Back to our roots: a do-it-yourself approach
In September 2008 leaders from across Sierra Club Canada’s groups, chapters and national levels came together to set a new strategic direction. We came out of that retreat with a revised mission: Sierra Club Canada is a member-based organization that empowers people to protect, restore and enjoy a healthy and safe planet. This means building a member-focused approach into all of our campaigns, communications and projects. This also means strengthening the links among activities at the local, provincial/territorial and federal levels. We want the Club’s presence to be felt as strongly in our schools, and communities as it is in the chambers of parliament.
As a member-based organization, your participation is key to the success of this new strategic direction. The next phase of Sierra Club Canada campaigning will be grounded more deeply in our local groups’ initiatives. For example, Judy Leicester with Quadra Island Group recently invited local business owners into her home to meet and discuss a phase-out of plastic bags on the island. As a result, local businesses have all made the switch to locally designed reusable bags. I am inviting you to step up your own contributions and share your skills, expertise, knowledge, and vision at the group, Chapter and/or national level(s). If you want to get involved at the national level please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, subject: Building the Club.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank outgoing board members Sonja (Mihelcic) Martens, Willi Nolan and Paul Falvo, and to welcome new Board members Zoë Caron, Joseph Mayer and returning board member Gaile Whelan Enns.
We are the change we’ve been waiting for.
Message de la Présidente
Retour aux sources : une approche au coeur de l’environnement des membres
En septembre 2008, les leaders de Sierra Club Canada — tant au niveau des groupes locaux et régionaux, que du bureau national — se sont rassemblés pour définir une nouvelle direction stratégique. Au sortir de cette réunion, nous nous sommes engagés dans le renouvellement de notre mission: Sierra Club Canada est une organisation bâtie sur la force de ses membres engageant la population à protéger, restaurer et jouir d’une planète en santé et en sécurité. Ceci marque la création d’une approche qui met l’emphase sur les membres lors de nos campagnes, nos communications et nos projets. Ceci signifie aussi le renforcement des liens entre les activités au niveau local, provincial et fédéral. Nous voulons que la présence du Sierra Club soit aussi rayonnante dans nos écoles et nos communautés que dans les édifices parlementaires.
En tant qu’organisation basée sur la force de son membership, votre participation est essentielle au succès de cette nouvelle direction stratégique. La prochaine étape de promotion de Sierra Club Canada sera arrimée plus solidement à aux initiatives des groupes locaux. Par exemple, Judy Leicester du Groupe Quadra Island a récemment invité chez elle les gens d’affaires locaux afin de les rencontrer et de discuter avec eux du remplacement graduel des sacs de plastique sur l’île Quadra. A la suite de cette rencontre, les commerces locaux ont tous fait le choix de les remplacer par des sacs réutilisables conçus dans cette région. Donc, je vous invite tous à contribuer et à partager vos aptitudes, vos expertises, vos connaissances et votre vision avec votre groupe local, votre section régionale ou au niveau national de Sierra Club. Si vous voulez vous impliquer au niveau national, veuillez nous contacter au email@example.com et inclure dans le sujet du courriel: Construire le Club.
Je voudrais utiliser cette occasion pour remercier chaleureusement les membres sortants du conseil d’administration: Sonja (Mihelcic) Martens, Willi Nolan et Paul Falvo. Également je voudrais souhaiter la bienvenue aux nouveaux membres Zoë Caron et Joseph Mayer ainsi qu’à un membre qui fait un retour au conseil, Gaile Whelan Enns.
Nous somme le changement que nous attendions.
More Safeguards on Chopping Block
The key federal law regulating navigation on Canada’s waterways—and the environmental impacts of obstructions to navigation—is being gutted as part of the Conservative government’s budget implementation legislation.
The Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) has been an integral part of Canada’s environmental protection regime. Taking away protection of navigation rights means that the ecology of Canada’s wild rivers and lakes will be seriously jeopardized.
The changes to the NWPA jeopardize access to waterways and reduce environmental protection by granting broad discretion to the Transport Minister to bypass the permitting process for potentially harmful developments such as dams, bridges, and other obstructions to navigation. Under existing law, an assessment of the environmental impacts of such proposed developments must be conducted before a permit under the NWPA for the project can be issued.
Under the NWPA amendments, the Transport Minister is authorized to issue an order exempting any development—whether the proposed new highway bridge across the Ottawa River or a hydroelectric dam in British Columbia—from the NWPA’s environmental assessment and regulatory process.
Navigation rights belong to all Canadians and the federal government has exclusive constitutional jurisdiction to protect this right. These NWPA amendments are not budgetary in nature and should be considered separately with more adequate stakeholder consultation. The lack of consultation with affected stakeholders is a second reason why these amendments are not legitimate, not to mention poorly conceived. The government’s failure to consult with aboriginal peoples and accommodate their concerns could well mean a constitutional challenge to the amendments as violations to the aboriginal and treaty rights of aboriginal people guaranteed under Canada’s constitution.
Celeste Côté, Sierra Club Canada’s National Water Campaigner and Will Amos, legal counsel with Ecojustice, testified against the amendments before a last-minute joint meeting of the House of Commons Finance and Transport Committees on February 23, 2009. Unfortunately, Liberal Members of Parliament voted with Conservative MPs to retain the NWPA amendments (New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois MPs voted against the amendments); the result was the budget implementation legislation including the NWPA amendments was enacted by Parliament.
Environmental groups such as Sierra Club Canada, Ecojustice and the Canadian Rivers Network continue to oppose the NWPA amendments as do hunter and angler groups and retailers of outdoors equipment such as Mountain Equipment Co-op. Mountain Equipment Co-op’s chief executive officer, David Labistour, says that more than one million MEC members canoe and kayak on Canada’s waterways. He believes the amendments to the NWPA will significantly erode outdoor recreation in this country, and the opportunities it provides for adventure and inspiration. “We join with others in calling for the removal of the NWPA amendments from the Budget Implementation Act.”
Please write to Transport Minister John Baird and Environment Minister Jim Prentice requesting that they reconsider these environmentally damaging amendments. See www.sierraclub.ca for more details.
Fired up on Water Issues
Celeste Côté grew up in Finch, a small town near Cornwall, Ontario, where her mother taught her the finite, precious nature of the world.
She moved to Ottawa to study International Studies and Modern Languages at the University of Ottawa, and discovered the power of grassroots organizing. Celeste became editor-in-chief of the campus’ political magazine, The Caucus, encouraging fellow students to write articles and get involved. In 2006, she worked on a local mayoral campaign in Ottawa and deepened her understanding of how larger-scale campaigns work. Shortly after this, Celeste became campaigns coordinator for the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, where she brought forward campaign ideas from the students and made them happen. The breadth of students’ interests gave her the opportunity to become informed and active on many social and environmental issues.
She brings this experience to Sierra Club’s campaigns by promoting a grassroots agenda, and by taking a multistakeholder consensus-building approach for the freshwater campaign. From drinking water safety, to bulk water exports, water conservation, the Great Lakes Sustainable Water Resource Agreement, and the preservation of aquatic ecosystems, hers is a full plate. “It is definitely a challenge to stay on top of the demands of all our campaign plans, but I’m lucky to be able to work from Sierra Club’s already established credibility, and I have a lot of support, which is great. Sierra Club is on the ground across the country, more so than any other organization, which is really key for grassroots-level campaigning. We’ve got volunteers, staff, part-time, full-time, all walks of life, on campuses, and in communities.” She sees herself as staying with Sierra Club Canada a long time, making sure decision makers understand how finite and precious freshwater is.
Sierra Club Canada vs. Syncrude
Enforcing Environmental Law
Sierra Club Canada helped to bring Syncrude, one of Canada’s largest tar sands companies, under legal fire this past January for causing the death of 500 ducks in their massive toxic tailings pond last year. The waterfowl were traveling on their spring migration when they landed on Syncrude’s tailings pond, and every bird that landed on the tailings pond was killed. To many in the environmental community, the incident provides further evidence that pollution from tar sands extraction makes the environment too toxic for wildlife and people.
In the days following the disaster, both federal and provincial government officials vowed to take action against Syncrude—but nine months later no charges from either government had been indicated or laid. The regrettable failure of the Alberta and federal governments to enforce their own environmental laws in a timely manner prompted Sierra Club Canada, and our allies Ecojustice and Forest Ethics, to launch a legal action against Syncrude. Collectively, we stepped up to ensure that the oily deaths of the 500 ducks would not become another status quo practice for tar sands operations.
Sierra Club Canada’s private prosecution against Syncrude was brought forward under the Federal Migratory Birds Convention Act, which prohibits the deposit of a harmful substance in an area frequented by migratory birds. In February, one month after Sierra Club launched its private prosecution against Syncrude, the federal and provincial governments were spurred into action, serving Syncrude with joint charges under the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. Given that the federal government served an identical charge to that brought forward in Sierra Club’s private prosecution, our charge was withdrawn.
In this case the actions of Sierra Club Canada and our allies spurred government to step in to do the bare minimum—enforce the law. However, this is a rare example because in Alberta citizens are charged more in library fines each year than the federal and provincial governments charge tar sands companies for not following environmental regulations. This is hard to imagine considering there are hundreds of kilometres of toxic tailings ponds in the tar sands and, as this case demonstrates, they are a direct threat to any life in the region.
The federal and provincial governments have been ducking their responsibility to ensure that human health and the environment are protected in the tar sands region. In fact, they are perpetuating the problems. Just consider the Alberta government’s $25 million dollar misinformation campaign to depict the tar sands as clean and green, and the Harper government’s recent attempts to initiate a Climate Pact with the US that protects tar sands extraction. When governments fail to represent our best interests and enforce their own laws, ordinary people like you and I must take action.
Sierra Club Canada will continue to work with our allies to: stop new approvals of tar sands related project infrastructure; strengthen and enforce environmental regulations related to existing energy infrastructure; and shift priorities towards implementing sustainable energy solutions. And we need your help to build a movement for change!
For more information on how you can get involved in the Sierra Club Canada’s Tar Sands Timeout campaign, please visit: www.tarsandstimeout.ca.
Recent Campaign Highlights
ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE
FEDERAL ELECTION FALL 2008
FIGHTING DEREGULATION OF ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS
PROTECTING ORCA HABITAT
Shedding light on the dance of climate change science, politics and human nature
Publication note for Global Warming for Dummies, written by Elizabeth May and Zoë Caron
This is the long-awaited book that explains the ins
and outs of climate change. It is after years of
work by the main author, Elizabeth May, former executive
There are chapters on the mechanisms of climate change, and its impacts on nature, people, and the economy. There is information on the political progress being fought for, thwarted, and gained—inch by inch. There are chapters on short-term and long-term industrial solutions and technology, on contributions that can be made by all sectors—banks, farmers, fuels, building construction and the general public. The authors cover the roles of activists, youth, media and all of us have in pulling back from the edge of the abyss.
This book, written with the perspective of insiders, and optimists at heart, is eminently readable, and easy to search and skim, and ultimately convincing and empowering. By the final page, the reader can be amazed by the intricate linkages within our natural world, and the amazing possibilities for people and the world’s nations to work together, and most importantly, feel empowered to join in the fight.
Federal budget has only splashes of green
The 2009 federal budget, released on January 27, included some important environmental measures but was most striking for the prime opportunities that were missed, especially one to expedite the transformation of the Canadian economy into a globally- leading, environmentally-integrated green economy. As Prime Minister Harper has said, “we cannot separate environmental and economic policy.” This was a prime time to make major investments in renewable energy and water and wastewater infrastructure, to make all transfers to industries and governments conditional on achieving defined environmental outcomes, to implement effective carbon pricing, and to match President Obama’s prioritization of environmental progress, yet little was done in any of these areas.
Most strikingly missing was
funding to renew and expand
the EcoEnergy for Renewable
Power program, the major
federal support mechanism for
renewable energy in Canada,
which has been so successful
that it may run out of funds this
year, well before its scheduled
March 31, 2011 end date. This
may jeopardize renewable
energy investments in
Canada, and allow billions in
renewable energy investments
to go to other countries instead.
Furthermore, no environmental conditions were reported for the funding to the auto and forestry sectors, nor for
much of the infrastructure funding, and little was done to
conserve Canada’s biodiversity.
Two of the most important budget measures in the budget
will support home and apartment retrofits for energy
Other positive elements in the budget included:
Another key concern is the government’s commitment to
amending and streamlining the Navigable Waters Protection
Act, the Fisheries Act and the Canadian Environmental
Assessment Act, which could all potentially weaken federal
laws that protect our land and water ecosystems.
Andrew Van Iterson
THE LAST WORD
Prime Minister Stephen Harper seems to have misplaced his environment minister.
The Honourable Jim Prentice, appointed environment minister by Harper in late October, appears to be held hostage in his former job as industry minister, even as he neglects his duties as environment minister. Where’s Jim? I wonder.
The federal budget in late January promised to stimulate old brown industries with little support for green jobs, green infrastructure or green energy sources. What a contrast with the solid commitment to clean energy and environmental protection by President Obama in his economic stimulus package. Why was Jim Prentice a no-show for Canada’s budget?
In February, Sierra Club Canada obtained confidential documents revealing that Prentice is finalizing legislation to gut legal requirements for environmental assessments of developments requiring federal decisions. This new law would give the environment minister complete discretion to evade federal environmental study of tar sands mines, oil pipelines, nuclear power plants and hydroelectric dams. Where’s Jim?
In January, Prentice was spotted in Calgary promising Esso and Exxon Mobil that the federal government would provide cash subsidies to the Mackenzie Gas Project—possibly as much as the requested $2 billion, when combined with other subsidies such as loan guarantees and royalty remissions. This $16 billion project would trigger the conversion of Canada’s biggest wild river watershed into a petro-industrial landscape and fuel escalation of tar sands oil production putting more carbon into the air, and contributing to the destabilization of global climate. Where’s Jim the environment minister?
Earlier in January, Prentice was in Toronto promising chief executive officers the deep integration of Canada’s climate policy with that of the United States. In practical terms, this means that Canada is preparing to abandon our sovereignty on this issue to the United States. It also means that Canada can continue to delay taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because even President Obama’s current targets for the U.S. kick in years after Canada’s. Where’s Jim, the environment minister?
In December, Prentice was seen in Poznan, Poland, shilling for Canada’s tar sands industry—seeking ways to exempt Canada and its tar sands from international requirements to reduce greenhouse emissions. Canada was the laughing stock of the Poznan climate talks (reminiscent of Bali in 2007), winning 21 “Fossil of the Day” awards, and the ultimate embarrassment, the “Colossal Fossil” award.
Again, where’s Jim, the environment minister?
Finally, despite pleas from environmental and industry groups, Prentice has not yet announced whether Environment Canada officials will continue to work with a multi-stakeholder forum to develop a national regulatory framework to reduce smog. Is this the first step to abandoning Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s April 2007 commitment to reduce smog emissions by 50 percent by 2015? Where’s Jim?
Perhaps Stephen Harper has not really misplaced his environment minister after all. Perhaps the Conservative government is merely taking advantage of the distractions of the economic crisis to dismantle federal environmental laws and renege on commitments while Canadians’ heads are turned.