Psst…secrets can hurt you

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not good at keeping secrets, and I particularly don’t like when governments work in secret. Governments feed us a lot of malarkey about why secrecy is essential, but 9 times out of 10 there’s no justifiable reason.Here are some government plans developing in secret that everyone should know about.SECRET #1At an undisclosed location in Ottawa this week, 400 delegates from Pacific Rim countries are negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) – the latest ‘free trade’ deal our government says we just have to have.Last January, some of the sections of the draft agreement showed up on Wiki Leaks including a chapter on dealing with the environment. The contents have fired up our US cousins because the language appears to violate a US law requiring all trade deals signed by the US to apply the same terms and conditions to environmental issues as it has for commercial issues.The leaked environment chapter has intentionally weak, unenforceable language on the environment, yet strong rules for protecting commercial interests. Why? Because a number of countries including Canada opposed strong language to protect the environment.But this is just one reason we should be concerned with 'free trade' agreements. Our chief concern should be loss of sovereignty. Multinational corporations promote these deals because there are always clauses inserted to protect them from democracy (or as they would say, "from arbitrary government action"). In practical terms, it means things like Canada being forced to pay damages to Ethyl Corp for banning a gasoline additive already outlawed in the United States, or $1 billion being demanded from Costa Rica because their citizens rejected a Canadian mining project.The Trans Pacific Partnership has an added insult to democracy. It will force countries to guarantee the construction of energy export infrastructure. Essentially, Canadians are being told to accept that Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan and EnergyEast pipelines are beyond the ability of either federal or provincial governments to stop. In fact, the federal government is selling out our rights for 30 pieces of silver. No wonder the negotiations are done in secret.SECRET #2There is another nasty little secret developing in Alberta that everyone should know about.Climate change is the dominant issue of our time, so it’s understandable that most of the focus is on the Tar Sands’ outrageous carbon dioxide emissions. President Obama has said he won’t approve the Keystone XL if it means increasing carbon emissions, period.As you’re aware, many critics have rightly pointed out that Canada has ZERO limits on Tar Sands emissions and have called for putting a price on carbon. Alberta has a tiny carbon fee that has done nothing to slow the runaway increase in emissions. So what would happen if Alberta significantly increased its fee, or instituted a meaningful carbon tax? Wouldn’t the US President have to approve the Keystone XL pipeline? In fact, isn’t this exactly what many critics on both sides of the issue have been pointing out for years?I can’t tell you how I know without endangering my source, but I can tell you that another dirty side-deal has been struck in secret. Sierra Club has learned that the Alberta government is going to increase its carbon tax (probably) after the November US elections. There will be great fanfare and trips to Washington. People like me will be expected to heap praise…but hold off on the applause and hear the rest of the secret deal. In exchange for its cooperation, Big Oil will essentially be given a free pass. I’ve learned that our friends at CAPP (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers) negotiated a nifty side deal with the Alberta government that will essentailly offset any new carbon-costs by reducing clean-up requirements associated with tailing ponds.This dangerous arrangement puts thousands of lives at risk in a cynical attempt to manipulate public opinion. The tailings ponds are an ecological time bomb. One scientist told me a single leak into the Athabasca River could kill everything downstream. Those dangerous tailing ponds hold millions of gallons of highly toxic contaminated water.Quid Pro PetroWhen CAPP was asked about the arrangement its spokesperson said “no comment”.So two very reckless plans are being negotiated in secret, and you and I are supposed to trust that our best interests are being looked after. I hate secrets.John Bennett, National Program DirectorSierra Club Canada Foundation1501-1 Nicholas StreetOttawa, Ontario K1N 7B7jb@sierraclub.caJohn on Twitter / Bennett Blog