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Harper‘s Support for Democracy Falls Short at Home
Do democracy and freedom begin at home for Prime Minister Stephen Harper?
Recently the Prime Minister told Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych he will be judged on his actions, not words, as violence against the country’s pro-democracy protesters steadily escalates. Harper signed a joint statement at the North American leaders summit in Toluca, Mexico, saying “[the leaders] agreed they will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that actions mirror words.”
The Prime Minister also called for an emergency debate in Parliament this week, saying “we understand that this violence is occurring because the majority of the population is very worried about the steps taken by their government that very much remind them of their anti-democratic and Soviet past.”
While Canadians will no doubt be relieved to see the country and its leadership take a meaningful stance against the oppression and violence of President Yanukovych’s regime, there’s sure to be some cognitive dissonance associated with Harper as a ‘democracy-for-the-people’ spokesperson here at home.
In fact, Harper has been throwing his political weight around a lot lately. Including during a trip to Israel.
In January Harper addressed the Knesset in Jerusalem during a high profile trip where he lavished praise on Israel as a bastion of democracy in a troubled region. (You can see the fully edited and polished Harper-esque version on the Prime Minister’s new newsfeed 24/7).
During his address Harper scattered the words “democracy” or “democratic” more than 10 times in the relatively short speech. The word “freedom” was also liberally applied as he lauded Israel’s leadership.
Interestingly, Harper threw in a little aside about political dissent when he said, “no state is beyond legitimate questioning or criticism. Indeed, Israel as a democratic state makes such criticism a part of your national life.”
It’s refreshing to see a Canadian leader sticking up for democratic values abroad and one can argue more leaders should do it. But wouldn’t it be nice if Harper also supported some of those high-minded values at home?
At least it would be good to know how Harper defines “legitimate questioning or criticism” here at home when it comes to, say, energy development or pipeline infrastructure in Canada. Are criticisms still legitimate if they come from environmentalists or First Nations groups?
Because when you look back over the past several years you can see all calls for democracy are equal when it comes to the Harper government; just some calls are more equal than others.
Harper has his own unique style of suppressing democratic dissent in this country, a particular flare for beefing up the executive and legislative branches of power in order to hold ‘democracy’ in check. All things in moderation, after all.
Take the scaled-up attack on charities as an example.
Federal tax authorities are aggressively auditing some of the government’s most articulate and pointed critics, including the David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence, the Pembina Foundation, and the Ecology Action Centre.
We now know that Ottawa is giving the Canada Revenue Agency a cool $13.4 million to investigate charitable organizations, a probe that will now extend beyond 2017, according to documents obtained by DeSmog Canada through Access to Information legislation. The investigation spending in an otherwise parsimonious budget is a sharp boost from the $8 million publically announced in the 2012 budget.
But it could pay off. Ottawa seems to have a new victim.
Environmental Defence, which has been “working since 1984 to protect Canadians’ environment and human health,” is on the verge of losing its charitable status under the taxman’s probe. Another organization, Physicians for Global Survival, was the first organization to loose its charitable status – the one group out of over 900 investigated.
“They have told us that, yes, more or less that they consider that things that we’ve been doing for 30 years are things that they now feel are not charitable,” Tim Gray, the executive director of Environmental Defence, said in a Toronto Sun report.
This haranguing against green groups has deep roots. Harper and his ministers have long worked to link environmental organizations to terrorism or to mischaracterize groups asfronts for well-funded American interests that threaten Canadian domestic energy supplies.
“I think we’ll see significant American interests trying to line up against the Northern Gateway project, precisely because it’s not in the interests of the United States. It’s in the interests of Canada,” Harper said in 2012, as recounted in the book, The Longer I’m Prime Minister.
“They’ll funnel money through environmental groups and others in order to slow it down,” he said.
The sentiment is strange when you consider the oilsands are important for American oil interests, as is evidenced in the drawn out battle for the Keystone XL pipeline, destined tosupply U.S. refineries with Albertan oil. The resentment of foreign interests also seems misplaced when you consider growing Chinese ownership in the oilsands and significant Chinese state investment in the Northern Gateway pipeline.
One this is certain: it was after these anti-environmental group statements that the Harper government directed the Canada Revenue Agency to target the legitimate dissent of some of Canada’s most prominent and respected environmental charities.
Columnist Mitchell Anderson, writing in the Tyee, opened a recent column with a pointed question: “Is Canada getting creepy?”
Mitchell outlined the CSIS affair, including Chuck Strahl’s resignation as chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, watchdog for the country’s powerful spying apparatus. Strahl resigned after his role as a lobbyist for the Northern Gateway pipeline project came to light. As Mitchell wrote, this was “an obvious conflict given that CSIS was spying on anti-pipeline activists – in partnership with the RCMP and private oil companies.”
At the same time as the crackdown on the environmental NGO sector, the Harper government has also vanished some of Canada’s most crucial environmental laws, expedited approvals for major energy projects and defanged the National Energy Board, which now hasstrict limits on how the public can participate in the project review process.
Critics have accused the Harper government of engaging in undemocratic politics. This lengthy list, compiled by Lawrence Martin, outlines all the times this government was found to behave in anti-democratic ways (contempt of Parliament, prorogation of Parliament, weakened watchdogs, abuse of process, suppression of research, document tampering and more) at a time when 62 per cent of Canadians felt the country was in a state of crisis.
That was in 2011, before the Harper government won its majority. By all accounts things have only gotten worse.
So while we’re working hard to protect civil dissent and promote democracy worldwide, let’s not forget to fight for the same at home.
It’s up to the U.S. President to decide whether the cross-border leg of the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest of his country. Ultimately, his criteria are less scientific than political. Does he stand to lose more by alienating those who support or oppose the project?
With midterm elections coming up in November, Obama doesn’t have time to worry about Canada’s hurt feelings. Our economy, environment and opinion are very low on his list of priorities.
But the strongest pro-Keystone arguments on the American side raise an uncomfortable question: if the pipeline is approved, who benefits a little bit — and who benefits a lot? In other words, who gets the short end of the stick?
Houston-based Forbes contributor Loren Steffy lays out the business logic behind Keystone XLwith a clarity you’d be hard-pressed to find on our side of the border:
“[In 2011], for the first time in six decades, the U.S. exported more gasoline and diesel than it imported. The bulk of the exports went to Mexico, Canada and Brazil. Mexico and Canada, even without Keystone, are two of our biggest suppliers of crude (Canada is No. 1; Mexico is No. 4 behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela). Gasoline, of course, is more expensive than crude, so we are in effect importing raw materials, adding value, and selling it back at a higher price – and maintaining U.S. jobs in the process.”
Catch that? It sounds a lot like the old story about exporting logs and buying back the furniture. Our domestic politicians tell us we’re an “energy superpower,” but to hear U.S. analysts describe it, we’re more of a convenient resource colony.
Canada is a rare duck indeed: a developed nation that is also a net exporter of crude oil. But the U.S. is catching up, thanks to a different kind of oil. The crude coming out of North Dakota’s Bakken shale is light and sweet. Canada’s is higher in sulphur and carbon content, while lower in energy and therefore value.
We produce light crude too, but not enough to match domestic consumption. And we don’t have the refineries to handle our own heavy oil. So we import light crude and gasoline to make up the difference, and send our low-grade stuff to the U.S.
We’re producing so much oil sands crude that we’ve overwhelmed cross-border pipeline capacity. Now the industry is stuck in a Catch-22. Profit margins have dropped dramatically. To reassure investors, bitumen miners talk about dramatically expanding production. But the more we produce, the more we exacerbate the supply glut.
The industry’s best hope right now lies in pipelines like the Keystone XL.
Back to Barack Obama. He doesn’t care about the woes of Canadian oil sands producers. His job is to calculate the U.S. national interest — or at least a version he can sell to voters. Last week’s State Department environmental impact report gave him more political cover on the question of increased carbon emissions.
Yes, operating the pipeline would be like adding 300,000 cars to the road. Yes, Canadian crude is worse for the atmosphere than the other heavy grades it would displace. But, the reportargues, without Keystone much of the same oil would find its way to the same refineries by rail — creating even more emissions than the pipeline, and significantly increasing the risk of accidents.
Rejecting Keystone, the report finds, won’t stop Canadian producers from digging up oil. The question is how they get it to customers.
“Keystone is important to the U.S. because it amounts to an energy insurance policy,” wrote Loren Steffy in Forbes. “Keystone gives us improved access to Canadian crude, which, with or without Keystone, is likely to remain some of the cheapest in the world.”
Is it smart for the president to lock in a stable supply of cheap oil from an eager neighbour? Yes. Is it smart to provide short-term jobs for U.S. construction and refinery workers? Yes. Will the political benefits outweigh the backlash? It’s a good bet Obama will decide yes.
The voters who will be most upset are probably the Nebraska ranchers whose lands will be expropriated. But they’re already Republicans.
Many backs will be slapped and victory cigars chomped in Calgary and Ottawa, the day Keystone XL is approved. Stephen Harper and his cabinet ministers will, no doubt, claim full credit.
Who will be the real winners? Oil companies, certainly. The Government of Alberta, which badly needs the royalties.
On a more modest level, perhaps the Canadian treasury. More than half the federal government’s revenue now comes from personal income tax. So the bean counters will be happy at the prospect of higher wages in the oil patch, so long as wages don’t drop in other parts of the economy.
But remember, oil and gas together make up less than 7% of Canada’s GDP. The entire sector pays 4.2% of total corporate taxes. And it provides only 3% of the jobs in the country. What’s good for oil sands companies is not necessarily the same as what’s good for the nation.
How about ordinary Canadians? Perhaps we’ll feel a fleeting sense of pride that our low-grade crude has found a loving home in the big Gulf Coast refineries. Then we’ll go fill up our gas tanks.
Image credit: www.keystone-xl.com
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It’s costing the federal government more than $22,000 to dispose of books and research material from Fisheries and Oceans scientific libraries across the country, according to new documents.
The information comes from the office of Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea. It was prompted by a request from Liberal MP Lawrence MacAulay last October, after reports surfaced that seven Fisheries and Oceans libraries were being closed and the materials destroyed.
“These numbers prove it that was a destructive process,” said MacAulay in an interview with CBC News.
Fisheries and Oceans is closing seven of its 11 libraries by 2015. It’s hoping to save more than $443,000 in 2014-15 by consolidating its collections into four remaining libraries.
Shea told CBC News in a statement Jan. 6 that all copyrighted material has been digitized and the rest of the collection will be soon. The government says that putting material online is a more efficient way of handling it.
But documents from her office show there’s no way of really knowing that is happening.
“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ systems do not enable us to determine the number of items digitized by location and collection,” says the response by the minister’s office to MacAulay’s inquiry.
The documents also that show the department had to figure out what to do with 242,207 books and research documents from the libraries being closed. It kept 158,140 items and offered the remaining 84,067 to libraries outside the federal government.
Shea’s office told CBC that the books were also “offered to the general public and recycled in a ‘green fashion’ if there were no takers.”
The fate of thousands of books appears to be “unknown,” although the documents’ numbers show 160 items from the Maurice Lamontagne Library in Mont Jolie, Que., were “discarded.” A Radio-Canada story in June about the library showed piles of volumes in dumpsters.
And the numbers prove a lot more material was tossed out. The bill to discard material from four of the seven libraries totals $22,816.76.
MacAulay said there’s no proof it saved any money.
“When these seven libraries were in place there was information that was very important to the fishing industry, and now they’re gone,” he said.
Fisheries and Oceans is just one of the 14 federal departments, including Health Canada and Environment Canada, that have been shutting physical libraries and digitizing or consolidating the material into closed central book vaults.
‘Care and control’
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May thinks that it may illegal.
“These materials are not the property of any government of the day to dispose of casually,” said May in an interview with CBC News. “The government or the department is not allowed to dispose of them willy-nilly.”
May said the handling of library material contravenes sections of the Library and Archives Canada Act. Section 16 of the act says that “all publications that have become surplus to the requirements of any government institution shall be placed in the care and control of the Librarian and Archivist.”
Section 12 points out publications can’t be disposed of without the “written consent of the Librarian or Archivist.”
“The purpose of the act is to stop what has happened here,” said May. “Material of value to Canada has been cast to the four winds and that violates the act.”
May said she talked to Hervé Déry, the interim librarian and archivist of Canada, and it’s clear to her the rules weren’t followed.
But a spokesman from Library and Archives Canada said the act allows for departments to throw out surplus research and books, as long as it’s done properly and valuable material is kept.
“LAC works closely with departments and provides them with guidelines and other resources to ensure that these mandatory processes are understood and followed,” wrote Richard Provencher in a statement.
“LAC has had these discussions with all of the closing departmental libraries that have been mentioned in recent media reports.”
But May isn’t convinced and is considered legal options, including a complaint to the RCMP.
Back in the spring of 2012, while walking in the deep woods of northern Ontario, Sonny Gagnon stumbled across a collection of surveying equipment among the towering spruce trees. Gagnon is chief of the Aroland aboriginal tribe, a band of 450 people living in a village of ramshackle houses surrounded by swampy muskeg. He tracks everything that goes on in his community. And the surveying tools weren’t supposed to be there.
“I was ticked off,” he says, after learning that the equipment belonged to a subcontractor of Cleveland-based mining company Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. (CLF)
It turned out Cliffs had plans to mine for chromite to the north of the Aroland reserve and to build a road through the territory to transport truckloads of the mineral to a railhead, Bloomberg Markets magazine will report in its March issue.
“They weren’t consulting us on what they were doing on the land,” Gagnon says. “I told them to leave and that we didn’t want them back.”
Gagnon and his native band then set up a roadblock to monitor traffic. Cliffs suspended plans for the mine in November, citing in a statement the “risks” associated with its ability to transport the ore for processing.
Cliffs officials didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.
Aboriginal Canadians from Quebec to British Columbia are asserting their rights. Energized by a 2004 Supreme Court decision that requires governments to “consult and accommodate” aboriginal groups before miners and oil and gas drillers encroach on their lands, the natives have blocked half a dozen major projects since the court ruling.
The natives’ activism complicates Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s grand plan to boost the Canadian economy with C$650 billion worth of natural resource projects over the next decade in a quest to make the nation an “energy superpower.” Among the government’s priorities are mining projects in the so-called Ring of Fire region of northern Ontario, stepped-up oil extraction from Alberta’s tar sands and natural gas exploration in British Columbia.
Native Canadians are demanding a say in how these projects proceed, and the 2004 court decision forces the government to give them one.
“These are huge issues, which have enormous implications for the economy of the country,” says Bob Rae, a former Ontario premier who, until April 2013, led Canada’s federal Liberal Party. “They’re right at the center of Canada’s economic life.”
The natives have a powerful political ally in Rae, who has agreed to negotiate with mining companies and the provincial and federal governments on behalf of the nine chiefs of the Matawa First Nations, including Gagnon. The council holds sway over northern Ontario lands where major mineral discoveries were made as recently as 2008. Mining companies, including Cliffs and Toronto-based Noront Resources Ltd. (NOT), estimate the region contains C$50 billion worth of copper, zinc and chromite.
The aboriginals’ latest show of power came in New Brunswick in October and November, when demonstrators gathered in opposition to Houston-based Southwestern Energy Co. (SWN)’s plans to drill for natural gas on native lands. The protesters clashed violently with police, at one point throwing Molotov cocktails that incinerated six police vehicles.
The company says the disruption in its operations cost it $60,000 a day. It got a court injunction that stopped the protests and proceeded with exploratory drilling in December.
‘Begin by Listening’
Confrontations such as the one in New Brunswick are proof that the Canadian federal government has mishandled its mandate to consult with the First Nations over such projects, says Paul Martin, an aboriginal rights advocate who led Canada as prime minister from December 2003 to February 2006.
“If you want to have a relationship, begin by listening,” Martin says. “And the federal government seems incapable of doing so.”
Prime Minister Harper has pledged to “reset the relationship” between government and Canada’s indigenous people. “Certainly, in the past, lack of trust on both sides has held us back,” he said in 2012.
Canada is facing more challenges to resource-extraction projects from aboriginals than any other nation in the world, according to an October report by Fredericksburg, Virginia–based First Peoples Worldwide, which provides grants and services to native tribes. The activists are divided into two groups. The so-called traditionalists want to shut out development and preserve native lands for hunting and fishing. “Progressives” want to share in the enormous wealth being produced by the country’s resource companies.
Idle No More
Often both points of view are represented in the same native band, creating conflict. Both can be found in a national movement called Idle No More, which has staged protests around the world — including in Stockholm and London — demanding jobs, education and economic development for Canada’s indigenous communities.
Idle No More made headlines in January 2013, when it staged protests that blocked train traffic between Montreal and Toronto.
Canada is home to 1.4 million natives, who make up 4.3 percent of the population, compared with the U.S.’s 2 percent, according to the most-current census data. More than half of Canada’s First Nations peoples, as they are known, live and work in cities; the rest are scattered across six time zones on more than 600 reserves.
Unemployment is as high as 90 percent in native communities such as Aroland, and the median per capita income was C$14,000 in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available. The per capita income of all Canadians today is C$40,650, according to Statistics Canada.
Canadian resource companies say they’re eager to accommodate the First Nations — so long as they don’t make unreasonable demands. In August, Calgary-based Athabasca Oil (ATH) Corp. won approval from Alberta’s energy regulator to start up an oil sands project in northeastern Alberta over the protests of the Fort McKay First Nation, whose traditional hunting grounds are adjacent to the proposed site.
The Fort McKay group wants a 20-kilometer (12-mile) buffer around the bitumen drilling operation. Athabasca rejected the idea, but on Dec. 17, Sveinung Svarte, its chief executive officer, said, “It is our view that a mutually acceptable solution is achievable.”
Athabasca’s shares sank 38 percent in 2013 amid uncertainty about the project, which could produce 250,000 barrels of oil a day at full capacity.
On the Pacific coast, Calgary-based pipeline builder Enbridge Inc. (ENB) has reached an angry impasse with the natives. The company wants to lay a 1,178-kilometer line called Northern Gateway to connect Alberta’s oil sands with the Pacific port of Kitimat, where the oil would be loaded onto tankers and shipped to petroleum-thirsty Asian markets. The pipeline would traverse British Columbia’s mountains and salmon streams.
The pipeline is opposed by native groups along much of its proposed route because they say oil spills and leaks would destroy their hunting and fishing grounds. The Yinka Dene Alliance, a group of six tribes whose lands span the pipeline’s proposed route to the sea, have banned any Northern Gateway contractors from setting foot on their lands.
The Coastal First Nations, an alliance of nine aboriginal groups on the British Columbia seashore, is equally determined to block Enbridge’s pipeline, and joined dozens of First Nations that voiced their opposition to the pipeline during 2012 regulatory hearings by Canada’s National Energy Board.
The board gave the project a green light in a December ruling, placing 209 conditions on the pipeline, many of them designed to protect the environment — and, by implication, native lands. Enbridge says it will spend an extra C$500 million to boost the thickness of its pipes, will install dual leak detection systems and will post permanent staff at remote pumping stations to minimize the risk of a spill.
“I’ve been in a number of locations in B.C. trying to talk to people about the project, but, more importantly, listening to what they are saying,” Enbridge CEO Al Monaco says. “I don’t say a heck of a lot. I basically listen to what the concerns are.”
The natives aren’t persuaded. Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations, stands aboard a 20-meter (70-foot) boat plying the waters near Prince Rupert and points across the Hecate Strait at a string of buoys marking the spots where the seabed was seeded with juvenile scallops in 2012.
The fragile shellfish beds are part of an effort to rebuild a traditional aboriginal economy based on aquaculture.
“The real foundation of who we are is shellfish,” Sterritt says, as a pod of whales surfaces within view of the boat. He adds that he doesn’t want to take a chance that an oil spill will destroy the pristine bay.
“We are still hopeful that they will see the merit of stopping this project,” says Arnold Clifton, chief councilor of the Gitga’at First Nation. “The recommendation is by no means the final say. All options are on the table.”
Prime Minister Harper, who also faces opposition to the pipeline from non-native British Columbians, has until June to decide the project’s fate.
Their recent victories in holding up projects have emboldened the aboriginals.
‘We Own It All’
“We have the authority to enter into any agreement that we want to,” says Gary Allen, chief of the Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation, which is negotiating logging rights on its land in northern Ontario with Montreal-based Resolute Forest Products (RFP) Inc. and other companies. “Whether with the mining sector, whether it’s in forestry, whether it’s water — we own it all,” he says.
In reality, what the natives own or control is a matter of dispute — and has been since Canada was founded. Although the 2004 Supreme Court decision forced the government to negotiate with First Nations when a company encroaches on land they occupy, the court did not give aboriginals veto power over government-backed resource projects.
Canada has signed 11 major treaties with natives since 1867, when the country gained independence from Great Britain. The treaties guarantee that the natives can practice their traditional way of life without giving them ownership of any land, says Thomas Isaac, a partner and head of aboriginal law at Toronto-based law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. The Supreme Court decision clarified Ottawa’s responsibilities, Isaac says.
“Government is the centerpiece of the wheel,” he says. “The courts are going back and relying on ancient principles around fairness and equity. This is about government treating its subjects fairly.”
In the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario, the federal government is serving as an intermediary to make sure the new mines include training and jobs for the aboriginals and do no permanent harm to the environment.
“We want to do this right. It has to be inclusive,” says Greg Rickford, the federal minister responsible for the development. “First Nations communities can and will bring important understanding to the environmental assessment processes.”
Former Prime Minister Martin says “Canada’s indigenous peoples are not anti-development. What they want is for it to be done in a sustainable way. That means doing it in full consultation with the people who live near these projects.”
Native claims are mostly addressed in the courts and other government forums. Since 2011, aboriginals have filed 165 complaints against the federal government with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, claiming they receive insufficient funding for education and child welfare. In disputes over resource projects, the mining and drilling companies are caught in the middle.
“The expectations placed on companies in this area over the past 10 years have evolved incredibly quickly,” says Robert Walker, vice president at Vancouver-based NEI Investments, which oversees C$5.5 billion in assets. “First Nations’ power is growing.”
Aroland’s Sonny Gagnon intends to take full advantage of that fact. Conditions in Aroland are typical of rural native communities. Houses stand unfinished or in a state of decay. Clutches of mothers stroll up and down the dirt roads pushing baby carriages. The only business is a corner store selling gasoline and canned food. The biggest of the few employers is the tribal government, which provides paychecks to about 30 people. Most of the rest live on government welfare of about C$400 a month.
‘A Day at a Time’
“Every day is a challenge,” says Robinson Meshake, in charge of social work on the reserve. “We take each day one at a time.”
Gagnon says alleviating his community’s deep poverty is his only goal. Even as he blocks construction of Cliffs’ proposed road through his settlement, he says he has no objection to the mining project.
“I’m pro-development,” he says.
Cliffs would use the road to transport ore from a mine 340 kilometers to the north to a railhead in Aroland. As many as 100 ore-laden trucks a day would pass through the community.
“I want those jobs for my people,” Gagnon says. “I want them to be making $400 a day.”
With the stakes in the tens of billions of dollars for Harper’s government and the resource companies he supports, Gagnon and other native Canadians have never been in a better position to right some of the historic wrongs they believe their people have suffered.
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Dr. Katie Gibbs speaks at a Stand Up for Science rally at Parliament Hill in Ottowa last September. (Evidence for Democracy / Kevin O’Donnell)
Seven of Canada’s most prized scientific libraries are being shut down and some of their contents have already been burned, thrown away or carted off by fossil fuel consultancy firms. This development is part of a Harper administration plan to slash more than $160 million in the coming years from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or DFO — an agency charged with protecting the country’s vast waterways.
The Harper government has portrayed the move as necessary in order to reduce the country’s deficit and provide Canadians with greater access to scientific information through the Internet. But alongside the cuts, the Harper administration has doled out billions in subsidies to the fossil fuel-dominated energy sector — $26 billion in 2011, according to a recent International Monetary Fund report. As for accessing the information at the shuttered libraries, an internal DFO document labeled “secret” obtained by Postmedia News in late December, along with the scientists who utilize the research facilities, tell a different story.
The once-secret DFO document speaks of “culling” materials in the libraries, a term that critics believe to be far more devastating than it sounds. Much like its original meaning — the killing of animals with undesired genetic traits — they see the budget cuts as a way to do away with undesirable science.
“The Harper government is not simply influenced by the fossil fuel industry, it isthe fossil fuel industry,” said Brad Hornick, a lead organizer with of the Vancouver Ecosocialist Group.
The Harper administration has long been known for its anti-environment stance. Harper’s environment minister, for instance, has publicly cast doubt on research documenting Arctic sea ice melt. Observers have also complained of a revolving door between the government and industry that has effectively placed Canada’s natural resources at the disposal of fossil fuel corporations supporting hydraulic fracturing, carbon-rich tar sands extraction and pipeline projects. In the process, a host of conservation laws and sovereignty treaties with Canada’s First Nations population have been unwound at the behest of oil and gas lobby groups. The Center for Global Development ranks Canada last among wealthy nations in terms of environmental protection.
Meanwhile, 2,000 government scientists have been fired over the past five years and hundreds of environmental programs that monitor food, water and air quality, study and prevent oil spills, as well as track atmospheric changes have been shut down for lack of funds.
Dr. Katie Gibbs with Evidence for Democracy, a grassroots organization composed of scientists mobilizing against the culling, said it is only the latest development in a “long trend.”
“Over the past few years we’ve seen huge cuts in funding for science, layoffs for scientists who work for the government and reduced funding for academic scientists,” Gibbs said. “Some are calling it a war on science.”
British Columbia’s independent online news magazine The Tyee detailed the scope of the latest assault, citing several research hubs where scientific literature has been trashed, burned or picked apart. According to The Tyee, they include, “[The] Maurice-Lamontagne Institute, which housed 61,000 French language documents on Quebec’s waterways, as well as the newly renovated $62-million library serving the historic St. Andrews Biological Station in St. Andrews, New Brunswick.” Also shut down, were “the famous Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and one of the world’s finest ocean collections at the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland.”
In a fitting addendum to this assault on science, the magazine noted that Rachel Carson — a founder of the modern environmental movement — corresponded with researchers at St. Andrews while writing her pioneering book on environmental contamination, Silent Spring, half a century ago.
According to Gibbs, whose group is circulating a petition against the cuts, “There’s no way this information was digitized. Many scientists have spoken out and said that everything is being done in a huge rush, completely disorganized. Private companies came and picked up truck loads of this material. They saw the value in it.”
The gas and dam powered-utility, Manitoba Hydro, plus North/South Consultants — a firm that counts oil and gas corporations among its clients in the heavily-frackedManitoba province — obtained troves of research documents pertaining to water treatment and aquatic habitats from Winnipeg’s Freshwater Institute. Scientists have also reported witnessing the incineration of literature at DFO libraries and one researcher at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute in Mont Joli, Quebec posted a photo online of a dumpster full of discarded books and journals. Although, scientists have done their best to salvage the research, more federal libraries are slated for culling.
Like the indigenous-led Idle No More movement and the climate activists who raised a sign that read “climate justice” over the prime minister’s head at a Vancouver Board of Trade meeting earlier this month, scientists are increasingly standing up to Harper, though doing so comes with great risk to their careers.
Last fall, Evidence for Democracy staged “Stand Up for Science” rallies in 17 Canadian cities against legal restrictions to their ability to share research and communicate with the public — one of the first steps in the so-called war on science taken by the Harper administration upon its ascent to power in 2006.
“The restrictions play into the library closures,” said Gibbs. “When scientists have spoken out they’ve had to do so anonymously because they fear for their jobs.”
According to critics of the Harper administration, such attacks on science are part of the prime minister’s small government, big business ideology, which assigns a negative value to any science that adversely impacts the production of fossil fuels.
“If you are going to be in favor of fossil fuel expansion, and tar sands in particular, and you are going to try to sell that to the Canadian public — part of doing that means dulling the awareness and importance of science,” said Rodger Annis, a Vancouver-based environmental activist and writer. “Science tells us in stark terms that if we want to prevent the very serious consequences of climate changethen we have to leave the tar sands in the ground.”
While the Harper administration may be able to dull, or even subvert the science behind such a message, it’s the scientists who are proving difficult to silence. And perhaps that’s just what’s needed. After all, science is only as strong as the scientists behind it.
Blaming someone for your troubles is often easier than facing the truth about yourself, and the federal Conservatives are apparently no exception.
The Citizen reported this week that the Conservative party sent fundraising solicitations to supporters saying the media have somehow teamed up with the opposition to undermine the Conservative agenda — and the Tories need to fight back.
“Here’s the bad news — the Liberal fundraising machine is in overdrive, and we need to keep up,” party president John Walsh said in an email to the faithful.
“We can’t let the Liberal attacks and the media stop us from reaching our goal.”
Using the media as the bogeyman to raise money apparently works, and Walsh’s email echoes one sent in November by Justice Minister Peter MacKay to rouse the party’s base against Justin Trudeau’s stand on legalizing marijuana.
“We need your financial support so we can fight back against Trudeau and his allies in the media — who are still making excuses for his mistakes,” MacKay pleaded.
These follow several attacks on the media by assorted Conservatives, including former Conservative Senate leader Marjory LeBreton, who noted that Ottawa is “populated by Liberal elites and their media lickspittles tut-tutting about our government …”
The notion that the media are in cahoots with the Liberals to somehow thwart Conservatives may work as a fundraiser, but it is not borne out by the facts, considering that this same media overwhelmingly backed Stephen Harper and the Conservative party in every election since 2006. In the three successive elections that the Conservative party won — 2006, 2008 and 2011 — the major Canadian newspapers, with only one exception, endorsed the Conservative party.
The Calgary Herald, Harper’s hometown newspaper, no surprise, endorsed the Conservative party in all three elections, asking Canadians in 2011 to “return the Conservatives with a majority, because their record and their platform make them the best choice for the country by far.” The Vancouver Sun was similarly inclined, picking Harper in 2006 to “clean up Ottawa,” and tipping him in 2008 as the “choice for the rough road,” and giving him the thumbs up again in 2011. Other papers such as the Vancouver Province, Winnipeg Free Press and the Edmonton Journal also wrote editorials backing Harper. But these are western newspapers, and one would expect them to back the hometown boy. What about the central Canada newspapers?
Let’s start with the Citizen. In a 2006 editorial endorsing Harper, the paper noted that “the Conservative moment has arrived.” Two years later, the paper again endorsed Harper, saying that he offered “the steadiest hand and the clearest judgment.” In 2011, when many in the country were worried about giving Harper a majority, the Citizen had no qualms, arguing that Harper deserved that majority. In the three elections, the National Post, a stable mate of the Citizen, also endorsed Harper and the Conservatives, stating in a 2008 editorial that Harper was “the best choice for the country,” and declaring two years ago that he was “the clear choice in uncertain times.”
And the Globe and Mail? The paper endorsed Harper in 2006, and in the next election backed him again, saying he was “growing into the job,” and was the “best man for the job.” In 2011, the paper picked Harper once more, saying the Liberals had failed to show how the Conservative government had failed, and why they should be the alternative. It was the same with the Montreal Gazette, which called the Conservatives “our best bet,” in backing them in 2008, and then asked Canadians to give the party a “stable majority government” in the election that followed.
Of the major newspapers in the country, the only one to buck the trend and not back the Conservative party is the Toronto Star, which endorsed the Liberals in 2006, saying their program was “best for Canada,” and stayed the course in 2008. But in 2011, the paper shifted allegiance to the New Democrats, saying the Liberals had not made a “persuasive case” to be considered the alternative to the Conservative party.
The record shows that, far from ganging up against the Conservative government, it can be said that Canadian media are actually supportive of the party and its leader. How else would one explain their overwhelming endorsement of Harper and his party in three successive elections? Which brings us to the next question: If the Conservatives have enjoyed this kind of backing from the media, why have they turned on them?
One answer is that beating up on the media raises money. Another is that the party resents criticism, and the fact that journalists were instrumental in exposing much wrongdoing this year, makes them enemies. But here’s the thing: There is division of labour in a democracy. The government governs. Parliament makes laws. The courts ensure the laws and policies are fair and just. And the media stand on guard, keeping a watchful eye on the other branches so the people’s work is done, and hold politicians accountable as they should. That’s how a democracy works, and we all better get used to it.
Mohammed Adam is a member of the Citizen’s editorial board.
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Thursday brushed aside any suggestion he might step down in the next couple of years, saying he would seek a fourth term in the 2015 general election.
“It is interesting to read in the papers one day that I plan to retire, and the next day to read that I intend to trigger elections immediately,” he said in a television interview with the French-language TVA Nouvelles.
“The reality is there are elections on a fixed date in 2015. I intend to lead my party (into the next election), which is the only party which has serious policy on the number one priority of the population, which is the economy.”
Only four of Canada’s 22 prime ministers, including Pierre Trudeau, father of current Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, have won more than three mandates.
The speculation of Harper’s possible departure has mounted at the end a difficult year for him and his Conservative government.
It has been marked by criminal allegations extending into his office over a Senate expense scandal, and the Conservatives are polling at their lowest level since taking power in 2006, well behind the newly resurgent Liberals under Trudeau.
Harper has denied any knowledge of what police say was corruption by his then-chief of staff, who provided money from his personal funds to a Conservative senator to help pay back expenses determined to be inappropriate. The former chief of staff denies any wrongdoing.
But the affair has tarnished the reputation of Harper, who came to power pledging accountability and avoiding even the appearance of evil after Liberal wrongdoing. The Senate expense scandal overshadowed his government’s biggest accomplishment of the year, a major trade deal with the European Union.
Asked if he would use the Christmas holidays to reflect on his political future, Harper said flatly, “No.”
“My intention for this period is to determine the next steps for the government… We have finished the most productive year of any since we took power. I hope 2014 will be like that,” he said.
“There are a lot of challenges. There are a lot of opportunities for Canada but also a lot of threats, a lot of challenges, and we must ensure a prosperous future for our children.”
Harper said the government was in the process of making fundamental economic changes, for example, launching Canada’s biggest infrastructure plan, and transforming immigration as well as research and development to better serve economic needs.
This Saturday, Canadians and Americans will gather outside the Canadian Consulate in Minneapolis to build a united wall of opposition to pipelines, reckless tar sands expansion and runaway climate change.
The event is the first of over 90 confirmed Defend Our Climate, Defend Our Communitiesrallies to take place outside of Canada. According to Carolyn Pennisi, the host of Saturday’s event, these aren’t just Canadian issues. “These are not even just North American issues,” she says, “They’re global issues.”
Pennisi is a self-identified “Canadian American” who grew up in Canada and moved to the U.S. as a teenager. Though she’s lived south of the forty-ninth parallel for most of her life, she says she still feels very Canadian in her heart.
Both the Alberta and federal governments have been pushing hard to sell Alberta’s oilsandsin the country her family now call home. In fact, Alberta Premier Alison Redford is in Washington, D.C., this week pushing Alberta’s “responsible energy development and… strong environmental policies” according to a media release from Redford.
Redford and representatives from the Harper government have been lobbying President Barack Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project. Obama has said he will not approve the project if it increases greenhouse-gas emissions, so Canadian representatives have been arguing KXL won’t increase GHG emissions by driving up bitumen production.Documents obtained from Alberta under Access to Information legislation and released last week by The Globe and Mail dispute this argument.
According to Pennisi, “Our countries are historically friends. But on this issue, Canada’s getting some bad press.”
“I recently apologized for being Canadian, for the first time ever,” admits Pennisi.
“What we keep hearing is Canada is putting in the pipelines and Canada wants to send all this oil down here and Canada this and Canada that… we don’t all want to push our oil on the U.S. Some of us object. But it’s not Canada. It’s just some people in Canada.”
A recent poll from Canada 2020 and the University of Montreal found that a majority of Canadians understand that humans are contributing to global warming and they overwhelmingly believe that the federal government should take the lead on combatting climate change.
In addition to the Keystone XL which would increase total capacity of the pipeline to 1.1 million barrels of diluted bitumen per day, Enbridge filed plans to Monday to build the $2.6B Sandpiper pipeline project across northern Minnesota. If approved, the project will move 225,000 barrels per day of unconventional oil to Minnesota, and 375,000 barrels to Wisconsin. Pennisi notes there are local groups fighting both projects.
Pennisi is concerned that our government’s massive lobbying efforts to push the oilsands are having a detrimental impact. “I’m concerned that our reputation has started to tarnish. For Canada to start being seen as this big greedy polluter is not good for either country.”
Pennisi has participated in activism before: She once took an overnight bus trip to Nebraska to testify for the Keystone XL hearings. But she’s never hosted an event like this before.
At first Pennisi was anxious about drawing folks out to Saturday’s action, but she’s feeling really encouraged at the response from her community.
“I actually have people rallying around me,” Pennisi said, adding that one man from her daughter’s school said he would try to make it despite it being the Sabbath, and others promised to help spread the word on Facebook.
“It’s happening, and it feels so good to have people in my corner rather than to feel like I’m fighting climate change alone.”
Growing visibly more angry with every allegation coming from a senator that he appointed, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said during question period on Tuesday that Mike Duffy has shown no remorse for claiming ineligible expenses and should be removed from the Senate.
Harper’s remarks came a day after the former Conservative dropped a second bombshell, saying there was not one but two cheques cut to him by Harper’s former chief of staff.
Duffy told the Senate on Monday that Nigel Wright, Harper’s former chief of staff, arranged to have his legal fees paid by the Conservative Party — in addition to the $90,000 cheque Wright gave Duffy to repay his ineligible expenses.
“The reality is,” Harper said on Tuesday, “that Mr. Duffy still has not paid a cent back to the taxpayers of Canada. He should be paying that money back.”
‘On our side, there is one person responsible for this deception. That person is Mr. Wright.’— Prime Minister Stephen Harper
“The fact that he hasn’t, the fact that he shows absolutely no regret for his actions, and the fact that he has told untruths about his actions means that he should be removed from the public payroll,” Harper said.
The prime minister has maintained all along that he knew nothing about the $90,000 cheque that his right-hand man gave to Duffy.
On Tuesday, the prime minister took direct aim at his former chief of staff, telling the Commons, “On our side, there is one person responsible for this deception. That person is Mr. Wright.”
“It is Mr. Wright by his own admission. For that reason, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Wright no longer works for us. Mr. Duffy shouldn’t either,” Harper said.
The prime minister did not, however, deny on Tuesday that the party cut Duffy a second cheque to cover his legal fees.
“That is a regular practice. The party regularly reimburses members of its caucus for valid legal expenses — as do other parties,” Harper said.
Duffy’s claim that he had paid back his ineligible expenses using his own funds was “the story of Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright,” Harper said.
“Mr. Duffy should be removed from the Senate.”
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair continued to pepper the prime minister with sharp questions on Tuesday.
If Duffy’s expenses were “inappropriate,” as Harper said again Tuesday, why did the Conservative Party pay for the senator’s legal fees? Mulcair asked.
Harper did not directly answer the question, saying only that he has said “it was inappropriate all along.”
- Canadians believe Mike Duffy over Stephen Harper on Senate scandal: poll (globalnews.ca)
- Harper defends payment for Duffy’s legal bill, says senator should get the boot (sunnewsnetwork.ca)
- Harper to face tough questions in wake of Duffy revelations (globalnews.ca)
- Harper says chief of staff Wright ‘dismissed’ over $90,000 cheque, not resigned (calgaryherald.com)
- The Senate Circus Continues (emkaydeeblogs.wordpress.com)
- Senate scandal not on Canadian public’s radar (beaconnews.ca)
- Stephen Harper in B.C. for pipeline push (cbc.ca)
- Two important developments British Columbians need to pay attention to, now. (lailayuile.com)
- Joe Oliver makes energy sales pitch in Washington (cbc.ca)
- Harper cabinet ministers coming to BC to convert pipeline opponents (vancouverobserver.com)
- Seeking Keystone XL Backing, Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper Pens Letter To Obama (huffingtonpost.com)