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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.
Reaction was fast and furious to the State Department’s final report on the environmental impacts of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline on Friday, and you couldn’t be blamed if you wondered if environmental groups, the oil and industry and government were responding to completely different reports.
While many headlines trumpeted the report as good news for Keystone XL backers, we believe it swung the pendulum towards a rejection of the pipeline by President Obama.
Why? Because President Obama says that he is committed to climate action, and the report is clear that in a world where climate change is taken seriously, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would undoubtedly have a significant impact on climate change.
It is the President who will make the final decision to approve or reject the pipeline, and if he is serious about his commitment to climate action, this report gives him everything he needs to reject the pipeline.
The report looks at a series of scenarios and the climate impact of the pipeline in each one. In one of these scenarios, we are tackling climate change; demand for oil continues to drop in North America and the tar sands continue to face transportation constraints – not unlike the constraints they are facing today.
While the report still downplays the climate pollution, it is in this scenario that the pipeline would contribute most significantly to global carbon pollution, up to 5.7 million news cars or 7 coal-fired power plants worth of emissions per year. The other scenarios are ones in which the global demand for oil is aligned with carbon emissions that would lead to dangerous global warming. The other scenarios are ones where we are not meaningfully tackling climate change.
If the President is committed to a safe climate future – it is one that does not include the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
The tar sands exist because of a perfect storm of conditions: a high oil price, no meaningful regulatory costs, and a world with little action on climate change. This is a set of conditions that is crumbling despite increasingly desperate efforts to keep this expensive and carbon intensive operation profitable. Industry and government know very well that pipelines, and especially Keystone XL, are the key to being able to lock in more expansion and more production.
While some who support the pipeline argue that tar sands oil will still be brought to market regardless of whether the pipeline is approved – namely by rail – the cost, lack of policy, public concern and logistics are enough for experts and industry alike to know that rail cannot replace pipelines. In fact, industry projections depend on approval of every pipeline on the table plus some rail to be able to triple tar sands product as planned by 2030.
Notably, the State Department itself threw cold water on the chances of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline being built, stating that“…this project has been so derailed via political opposition, state determines ‘it remains uncertain at this time if the project would receive permits and be constructed and therefore… was eliminated from detailed analysis.”
Industry’s hopes for tar sands expansion are far from inevitable. Regardless of the Keystone outcome, it will never be easy to build another giant tar sands pipeline on this continent again.
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and the President has committed to doing everything he can to avoid the worst of it. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is the test of his sincerity. It is the single biggest thing he could do as President to make it clear to Canada and the world that the era of reckless fossil fuel development is over. That a country – like Canada – can’t get away with leaving its fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution completely unregulated. That now is the time to be investing in smarter, cleaner energy, not locking ourselves into decade’s worth of some of the world’ most carbon intensive fuels with a new giant pipeline.
Last week in his State of the Union speech the President said, “Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”
The reason we can be so optimistic about this report is that it gives the President the evidence he needs – if he is serious about the climate crises – to reject this pipeline, and leave a legacy of a clean energy future.
A coalition of environment groups has filed a lawsuit in Federal Court alleging serious flaws with the Joint Review Panel’s final report that recommended the pipeline be approved because “Canadians will be better off with this project than without it.”
The group is seeking a court order to prevent the federal cabinet from acting on the panel’s report to approve the proposed pipeline.
Ecojustice lawyers representing ForestEthics Advocacy, the Living Oceans Society and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation allege the Joint Review Panel’s 419-page report contains legal errors and that its approval is based on insufficient evidence.
“The JRP did not have enough evidence to support its conclusion that the Northern Gateway pipeline would not have significant adverse effects on certain aspects of the environment,” said Ecojustice staff lawyer Karen Campbell, in a statement released on Friday.
“The panel made its recommendation despite known gaps in the evidence, particularly missing information about the risk of geohazards along the pipeline route and what happens to diluted bitumen when it is spilled in the marine environment.”
Serious flaws alleged
In its lawsuit, the environmental coalition says the panel concluded that diluted bitumen is unlikely to sink in an ocean environment even though it says a federal study released earlier this week suggests otherwise.
- Northern Gateway pipeline recommended for approval with conditions
- Northern Gateway project: 6 things to know
- Northern Gateway pipeline by the numbers
The lawyers say the review panel did not consider the federal recovery strategy for Pacific humpback whales, whose critical habitat overlaps with the proposed tanker route, or identify mitigation measures for caribou populations.
The lawsuit also alleges the panel refused to consider the environmental impacts of upstream oilsands development and permits Enbridge to assess landslide risks during instead of before construction.
Ecojustice says the battle over Northern Gateway is about more than just one pipeline project. Campbell says it’s the epicentre of the debate over Canada’s energy future and Canada needs to get it right.
“There is simply too much at stake. Any decision about Northern Gateway must be based on the best available science. That’s why the panel’s incomplete and flawed report cannot stand as the final word on whether Northern Gateway is in the national interest,” says Campbell in the release.
A cabinet decision on whether to accept the panel’s recommendation and approve the pipeline is expected sometime in the next six months.
Under the new environmental assessment framework contained in the 2012 spring omnibus budget bill, cabinet has final decision-making power over Northern Gateway but is bound by the 209 conditions laid out in the Joint Review Panel report.
Canada has a problem. Our greenhouse gas pollution is soaring. With climate impacts hitting harder and closer to home (ice storms, polar vortexes, floods…), our country is recklessly racking up a huge carbon bill that will saddle future generations with a debt impossible to pay off.
In a new report prepared for the United Nations, for the first time Environment Canada did the number crunching all the way to 2030. We’ve known for awhile that our 2020 target has become a mission impossible. But this report also paints a sorry picture of 2030, where Canada still doesn’t have its act together and climate pollution, specifically from the tar sands, continues to skyrocket (check out this detailed analysis by the Pembina Institute).
The report reaffirms that the growth in pollution from the tar sands – if the tar sands are allowed to continue expanding as projected – will wipe out any progress made to reduce emissions in any other sector, including Ontario’s coal phase-out, B.C.’s carbon tax, or other provinces’ energy efficiency and carbon reduction measures.
The result is while some pull up their bootstraps and clean up their acts, soaring pollution from the tar sands will cancel out everyone else’s hard work. And this means if Canada is to meet a national goal to cut emissions, some regions and sectors will need to do more than their fair share because one sector – oil – is getting off scott-free.
We hear a lot of talk these days about pipelines as “nation building projects” and being in the “national interest.” But if tar sands expansion is allowed, made possible by big new pipelines, this is a recipe for dividing our country, not uniting it.
Here’s why: At some point, Canada will need to get serious about reducing emissions, and how the carbon pie is divided between regions will become important. We can expect regions to speak up loudly if they’re asked to do more than their fare share to reduce carbon emissions because the oil industry is being irresponsible.
All provinces have a stake in major pipeline proposals like Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and TransCanada’s Energy East. There’s the tangible danger that these pipelines could spill tar sands oil into forests, farmland and drinking water sources. And then there’s the less tangible – but critical – impact they would have on the amount of carbon the country is pumping into the atmosphere and the impacts of climate change.
Will Ontario, British Columbia or Quebec be keen to do more than their fair share to cut carbon to make up for the impact of these pipelines? Doubtful. And they should not be asked to. All sectors and regions will need to reduce emissions. For the oil sector, that means keeping production at current levels and cleaning up existing operations – not expanding. It also means seeing the government put in place robust regulations on the oil sector that will see emissions go down, rather than up. Even the weak regulationsunder discussion now have just been punted ‘a couple of years’ further down the road by the Prime Minister.
The idea that Canada may fail to rein in soaring emissions by 2030 may not seem like the brightest news to kick off the New Year, but there is an important caveat to this story. It can only come true if industry and government get their way when it comes to rapid and reckless tar sands expansion.
The good news is that new pipelines and oil projects aren’t getting a free ride these days. With ever-growing public concern about moving oil (by tanker, rail, or pipeline), a world feeling the early impacts (and paying the price) of a changing climate, and new conversations in the financial sector about the risks of investing in high-carbon fuels, the tar sands are facing a serious uphill battle.
The world is waking up to climate change and the environmental devastation of projects like the tar sands, and while our current government chooses to leave their head in the sand, Canadians are also standing up to demand the safe, smart, clean energy future we deserve.
Canada’s pipeline projects have been the focus of a series of mass demonstrations [Reuters]
|Two decades ago, deep within British Columbia’s coastal old-growth forests, a fierce battle was waged and won to preserve Clayoquot Sound from large-scale clearcutting.
The legendary clash between environmentalists and industry in Canada’s westernmost province sparked a new kind of eco-activism – and the biggest fight since is poised to play out in the months ahead, as the country moves closer towards approving a controversial oil pipeline to the Pacific coast.
Last month, project proponent Enbridge Inc received a substantial boost through a federally commissioned report, which recommended approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline – subject to a host of environmental and administrative conditions. Advocates say the pipeline, which would whisk more than 500,000 barrels of oil daily from the Albertan tar sands to supertankers in Kitimat, BC, would benefit the country by opening Canada’s oil industry to growing Asian and Pacific Rim markets. But environmental and aboriginal groups, whose lands the pipeline would cross, maintain it would threaten some of the country’s most precious natural resources.
While the federal Conservatives – who have vowed no project will be approved unless it is “safe for Canadians and safe for the environment” – have until July to consider the report and come to a final decision, it is widely expected the government will green-light the Northern Gateway. And once that happens, Chief Martin Louie of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation says aboriginal groups will swiftly launch court action.
“That’s the only avenue that we have to try to protect our rights,” Louie told Al Jazeera, speaking on behalf of a group of aboriginal bands known as the Yinka Dene Alliance, who have banned Enbridge’s pipeline from their territories under indigenous law. “Beautiful British Columbia – that’s what it should be for our kids too. The way I grew up enjoying the land and everything, I want my children and grandchildren to do too.”
Stamp of approval
The Northern Gateway twin pipeline would stretch 1,177km between Bruderheim in northern Alberta and the deep-water port of Kitimat, BC. The westward line would have the capacity to transport 525,000 barrels per day of oil for export, while the eastward line would carry up to 193,000 barrels per day of condensate, a product used to thin oil for pipeline transport.
The $8bn project has been years in the making; in 2009, Enbridge announced it was seeking regulatory approval, setting off a public and governmental review process that will culminate with this summer’s final decision.
A major part of that process was the independent joint review panel, mandated by the Environment Ministry and the National Energy Board, which delivered its final report last month.
Tasked with assessing the environmental, social and economic impacts of the pipeline, along with the effects of tanker traffic within Canadian territorial waters, the panel ultimately recommended approval of the project subject to 209 separate conditions. “We have concluded that the project would be in the public interest,” the panel noted in its final report. “We find that the project’s potential benefits for Canada and Canadians outweigh the potential burdens and risks.”
Enbridge has said it will work to meet all of the panel’s 209 conditions – which range from developing a marine mammal protection plan to researching the behaviour and cleanup of heavy oils – along with a broader set of five criteria, including addressing aboriginal land rights, for heavy oil pipeline development set out by the BC government.
“We remain hopeful that we can work to address all concerns that our opponents have in a mutual spirit of cooperation and collaboration,” Enbridge spokesperson Ivan Giesbrecht told Al Jazeera, calling the December report “just one important step in a long process”.
The company contends the Northern Gateway will deliver more than $270bn in GDP to Canada over 30 years, along with $300m in employment and contracts for aboriginal communities and billions more in tax revenue and labour-related income during construction. Enbridge and other advocates, including the Alberta government, have described the pipeline as key to diversifying Canadian crude oil exports to markets beyond the United States.
“Access to ocean ports for Alberta’s abundant resources is important to not just Alberta’s but Canada’s economic future,” Alberta Energy Minister Diana McQueen said, noting resource developers get a lower price in the North American market than they could globally. The situation is compounded by the stalled Canada-US Keystone XL pipeline proposal, which has been awaiting US government approval amid years of debate over its route and environmental impacts.
Opponents, meanwhile, question Enbridge’s employment numbers and suggest the pipeline’s economic benefits have been overstated. The Northern Gateway has generated a wall of opposition from aboriginals and environmental activists who cite the risk of an Exxon-Valdez-level oil spill in BC’s pristine coastal waters. Dozens of aboriginal bands have signed a declaration against the project, pledging to refuse Enbridge access to their lands and watersheds, including the salmon-stocked Fraser River.
In addition to the risk of spillage from the pipeline itself, Greenpeace Canada – which has criticised Enbridge’s history of spills and leaks – points out that the oil-loaded, Asia-bound supertankers would have to navigate “one of the trickiest marine routes in Canada”, passing by a series of small islands in the Douglas Channel. More than a year ago, Enbridge came under fire for releasing promotional materials in which the islands had apparently been erased from a rendering of the channel, in what critics called an effort to downplay the risks.
“Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline would stream the world’s dirtiest oil from northern Alberta to the BC coast and would be the catalyst for unbridled exploitation and potentially calamitous disturbance of our land, air, freshwater and marine environment,” said Chris Genovali, executive director of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation in Sidney, BC. Industrial activities accompanying the transportation of oil could destroy habitats for caribou, wolves, whales and wild salmon, he added.
Opposition House Leader Nathan Cullen, the federal New Democratic MP for BC’s Skeena-Bulkley Valley, believes a major spill from either the pipeline or tankers over the 50-plus-year lifespan of the project is a certainty. “The ability to clean up bitumen in the water is virtually nil,” Cullen told Al Jazeera.
The Northern Gateway proposal faces an additional hurdle from BC’s provincial government, which has refused to lend support to the pipeline until Enbridge proves it will employ “world-leading practices” on oil-spill prevention and response, respect aboriginal rights and ensure the province gets a fair slice of the economic pie. “Enbridge hasn’t met any of the conditions yet,” government spokesperson Sam Oliphant said.
Legal fight ahead
Enbridge points out that it has already incorporated input from British Columbians and aboriginal communities, resulting in almost two dozen changes to the pipeline route and other alterations, such as thicker-walled pipes and an increased capability to respond to marine spills. In addition, the federal panel found Enbridge had taken steps to minimise the chances of a large spill “through its precautionary design approach and its commitments to use innovative and redundant safety systems”.
None of this is enough for the project’s opponents, who maintain the Northern Gateway will be a pivotal issue in the 2015 federal election – and set the stage for a landmark court fight.
The expected avalanche of legal cases upon the pipeline’s approval will tie it up for years, said Keith Stewart, climate and energy coordinator for Greenpeace Canada. And if the government tries to proceed regardless, he said, thousands of people have pledged to engage in peaceful civil disobedience, just as protesters did decades ago in Clayoquot Sound – using blockades and peaceful demonstrations to achieve their environmental goals.
The question of land ownership, meanwhile, is a complex one. Aboriginal rights are protected under section 35 of Canada’s constitution, but proving aboriginal title requires proof of use and occupation, said lawyer Drew Mildon, who works for a BC-based firm planning to represent aboriginals in the anticipated Northern Gateway court battle. While many aboriginal groups living along the pipeline route assert title and rights, they have not yet gone to court to prove them, Mildon told Al Jazeera.
“I have no doubt the governments will try to ram through the pipeline regardless of First Nations objections,” he said. “As a lawyer working for First Nations in BC, and given the overwhelming First Nations and public opposition here, I believe the pipeline will likely never happen.”
Stewart agreed, citing a failure on the part of Enbridge and the federal government to shore up public support for the pipeline.
“Without that support,” he said, “it won’t be built.”
Lawsuit filed against Canadian government over endangered wildlife and Northern Gateway : thegreenpages.ca
Vancouver — Environmental groups are taking the federal government to court over its continued failure to meet its legal responsibilities under the Species at Risk Act.
The groups argue that a number of industrial projects, including the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker route, are putting threatened and endangered wildlife at risk. The case will be heard by the Federal Court in Vancouver January 8 and 9.
“The federal government’s chronic delays in producing recovery strategies for Canada’s endangered wildlife are forcing species already struggling to survive to wait even longer for the protection they desperately need,” said Devon Page, Ecojustice executive director. “Worse, not having these recovery strategies in place makes it impossible for regulators to consider the full environmental impact of major projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline.”
The lawsuit challenges the federal government’s multi-year delays in producing recovery strategies for four species: the Pacific Humpback Whale, Nechako White Sturgeon, Marbled Murrelet and Southern Mountain Caribou. The habitat for all four species would be impacted by the construction and operation of the Northern Gateway pipeline, among other proposed developments.
By delaying the recovery strategies, and therefore delaying identification of the critical habitat it must then protect, the federal government is making it easier for projects like Northern Gateway pipeline to speed through regulatory review without a full understanding of their long-term impacts on these wildlife species and their habitat.
The government delayed its final recovery strategy for the Pacific Humpback Whale until this past October, more than four and a half years past its due date, and far too late to be considered by the Joint Review Panel (JRP), which recommended in December that Cabinet approve Northern Gateway.
That recovery strategy identifies toxic spills and vessel traffic as two threats to the humpbacks’ survival and recovery. The recovery strategy also shows how the whales’ critical habitat overlaps significantly with the proposed tanker route for the Northern Gateway pipeline — all pertinent information that should have been considered during the review hearings.
“This recovery strategy clearly demonstrates that Northern Gateway would have a significant impact on humpback whales and their habitat, yet by the time this science was released it was too late for it to be considered by the JRP, which calls into question the credibility of the review process,” said Caitlyn Vernon, campaigns director with Sierra Club BC.
More than 160 other at-risk species — including the Southern Mountain Caribou, another species that will be impacted by Northern Gateway — still await the release of their recovery strategies.
Activists disrupt Harper event RAW 0:42
Two climate change activists managed to sneak up behind Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday just as he was getting ready to start a question and answer session at the Vancouver Board of Trade.
Sean Devlin and Shireen Soofi succeeded in getting past the prime minister’s security detail and onto the stage where Harper was sitting to protest his government’s climate change policies.
Devlin stood behind Harper holding a sign that read “Climate Justice Now.”
Soofi held up a sign saying “The Conservatives Take Climate Change Seriously,” with the sentence crossed out.
She was standing between the prime minister and Iain Black, the president of the board of trade, who was introducing Harper when the activists took the stage.
Both men kept their cool as the pair were escorted off the stage by security.
“I’d like to take a minute and have some folks removed from the stage,” Black said while the prime minister reached for a sip of water.
“It wouldn’t be B.C. without it,” Harper joked.
The crowd of business leaders applauded Harper as security removed the activists from the room.
Former prime minister Kim Campbell was also in attendance, along with Industry Minister James Moore and a handful of Conservative MPs from the region.
Anti-Harper protester behind disruption
The two activists had the help of Brigette DePape, who immediately issued a press release following the security breach bragging about the pair’s exploits.
DePape was fired as a Senate page in 2011 after walking onto the Senate floor carrying a “Stop Harper!” sign during the speech from the throne to protest against Harper’s policies.
“This morning two people directly intervened in a high-security question and answer session with Prime Minister Stephen Harper,” the release said.
“The group managed to make their way past police undetected and into the secured Vancouver Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel.”
Reached by telephone following the disruption, DePape said she was proud of the protest.
DePape told CBC News “it was very empowering” for the activists to get that close to the prime minister.
No comment from PMO
Despite the security breach, the Prime Minister’s Office refused to comment publicly.
Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for the prime minister, told CBC News in an email, “we don’t comment on security-related matters.”
Following the event, the president of the board of trade Vancouver Board of Trade was asked by reporters how the protesters got on stage.
“I would defer that to the Prime Minister’s Office,” Black said.
The head of the board said that when high-profile guests are invited to speak, security is handled by a number of agencies, from the Vancouver police to the RCMP.
Both protesters were initially detained by Vancouver police, but were later released.
Vancouver police told CBC News that no charges have been laid against the protesters, but that could change.
“We will be working with the protection detail of the RCMP at the event to determine if charges are going to be laid,” the police said.
The RCMP said it was reviewing the incident and would take “appropriate action,” but referred questions on charges to Vancouver police.
Harper ‘shrugged it off’
Black said he wasn’t shaken by the event and that he took his cue from the prime minister.
“I didn’t really get rattled by it. First of all, it happened very quickly. We all saw how quickly it was handled. I took the lead from the prime minister’s response, to be honest.”
“He didn’t seem rattled. He’s got full confidence in the team around him and that showed. He kind of shrugged it off, and there was no reason for me to do anything else,” Black said.
Richard Zussman, who was at the event reporting for CBC News, said in a post on Twitter that the activists “looked to be dressed as wait staff.”
DePape, in her press release, hinted that other events may be disrupted.
“These actions are taking place as part of a global movement of groups of who are directly confronting the fossil fuel industry, from First Nations legal challenges and blockading projects on their territories, to other forms of non-violent direct action.”
Harper did not take any questions from the media.
Last week, Lorraine Mitchelmore, the top Canadian executive for Royal Dutch Shell, broke with industry narrative, stating that “the argument for environmentalism is not an emotional argument. It is just as rational as the argument for growing our energy industry.”
There is an important underlying realization in Mitchelmore’s statement that some conservative pundits, as well as our own government, seem to willfully miss. Sustainability — smart environmental decision-making — has everything to do with prosperity. It has everything to do with people’s jobs and their quality of life, with the opportunities they want for their kids. It is, in fact, the rational decision to carefully steward, protect, and invest in the natural capital on which our communities and future livelihoods depend.
What is dangerously irrational is making decisions based on short-term economic pay-offs that we know will undermine our future prosperity, perhaps catastrophically.
This is exactly what the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline threatens to do. Our government is apparently determined to move unprocessed diluted bitumen by tanker through the Great Bear Sea, which by Environment Canada’s own assessment, is one of the most treacherous sea passages in the world. No one can guarantee that there will not be an accident. Indeed, given the extremely dangerous waters of the Hecate Strait, it is rational to argue that an accident is simply a matter of time. And as two recent reports point out — one commissioned by the Province of B.C. and the other by the Federal government — Canada is woefully ill-prepared to deal with an oil spill in these waters.
What is at risk is very clear. Just talk to the people who live in this region, and they will tell you. It’s their jobs — the fishing and tourism industries — and their cultural identity. And it’s the spectacular ecosystem upon which all of that depends. A place that is as unique a global treasure as the Great Barrier Reef or the Amazon rainforest. It is no wonder that so many Canadians exercised their democratic rights by participating in the review process for this project. More than 9,500 people wrote to the Joint Review Panel, 96 per cent against the pipeline. The overwhelming majority of the 1,000+ people who provided oral testimony were also opposed. There is no question that the concerns raised by this project are the legitimate concerns of Canadians who value their livelihoods.
The real question is why we would take such a huge risk in such a special place.
If the answer is “to defend jobs”, it is misguided and misleading. More jobs will be destroyed by an oil spill than will be created by Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. Coastal First Nations’ traditional territories and coastal communities depend economically on the Great Bear Sea. Marine-dependent activities in these territories represent significant economic value. B.C. seafood and tidal recreational fishing generate $2.5 billion per year – and support more than 30,000 jobs. Exporting raw, unprocessed bitumen creates far more jobs outside Canada than it does here.
It is also irrational to repeat mistakes that we now have the knowledge and ability to avoid.
A generation ago, the Exxon Valdez ran aground and foundered, off the coast of Alaska. The resulting oil spill was an ecological, economic and social disaster that crippled coastal communities and deprived a generation of its livelihoods. The loss of the herring fishery alone cost the economy $400 million. Many communities have not yet fully recovered. In fact, some never will.
It’s a fate that we have the power to prevent in the Great Bear region, by pragmatically acknowledging that the risks of this proposed oil pipeline outweigh the benefits.
Yes, the argument for environmentalism is a rational one. For the people whose lives would be destroyed by an oil spill, it is also an emotional one. And for Canada, particularly at this moment, it is the one that will determine our future as global leader or laggard.
This article originally appeared in the Financial Post on Dec. 17, 2013