Why was Planet3.0 blacked out yesterday? In short because here in Canada we are facing somewhat of a crisis. While south of the 49th parallel in the US, politicians talk about a wide scale gutting of environmental protection laws, in Canada our politicians are actually going through with it. Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative party have a majority in the House of Commons there is little that the opposition parties can do to stop them.
Hence the black out here at Planet3.0 and many other websites. The hope is that a large enough outcry from the public will force the government to reconsider, and while it might seem like a long shot (and it probably is) there is some precedence of a large public outcry forcing the Conservative government to reconsider its policies. Recently such an outcry (mostly via social networks such as twitter) caused the government to drop the lawful access provisions from their omnibus crime bill. While that specific issue is way outside the scope of Planet3.0 and thus not up for discussion here it does demonstrate that even though the opposition parties don’t have enough votes to overturn the legislation we are not completely powerless to prevent the massive rollback of environmental regulations.
The main issue is the government’s sweeping omnibus budget implementation bill C-38. The 400+ page bill spends a considerable time rolling back environmental regulations and goes far beyond what is supposed to be in a budget implementation bill. Here are a few examples:
- The Canadian Environmental Assessment act has been completely gutted, with its scope now being mostly limited to environmental impacts affecting fish and migratory birds. There are now strict timelines for environmental hearings that make no allowances for the incredible complexities of some projects. And finally the act will now only apply to “designated projects”, but doesn’t define what “designated projects” means, leaving it up to the government to decide if any environmental assessment is needed.
- Public participation in environmental review hearings is being severely limited. The appointed members of the panel will now decide who is allowed to attend the hearings and unless someone is directly affected by the project then likely they will not be allowed to attend. This is seen as largely an attempt to limit public participation on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline review process.
- It removes the National Energy Board’s authority to stop an energy project if its independent, objective process determines that it is not in the public’s interest. The Cabinet can simply overrule the National Energy Board.
- Joint review panels of major energy projects have been eliminated. If the National Energy Board conducts a hearing then the Environmental Assessment is prohibited from conducting a review. This means that energy projects will now be evaluated only by the energy regulator.
- The National Energy Board is now exempt for species at risk protections. It will no longer need to ensure that protective measures have been taken to minimize energy projects impacts on endangered species.
- The National Round table on Environment and Economy is being eliminated. At first the government absurdly claimed that the Round Table was no longer needed because it could get the information it needed from the internet. However, it was later revealed that the reason for the elimination of the National Round Table was because it was giving the government advice it did not want to get: chiefly the recommendation that Canada adopt a carbon tax as a way to reduce GHG emissions and spur innovation of alternative energy.
- The Fisheries act which was not mentioned in the budget but has been gutted to only protect commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fisheries instead of all fish as has been the case for decades. The geographical scope of the fisheries acts has also been limited to only major waterways, instead of all bodies of water.
- The Kyoto Implementation act has been repealed. This is mostly a symbolic gesture since Canada has already withdrawn from the Kyoto protocol and has done nothing to achieve its Kyoto targets.
- 8 million in new funding for the Canada Revenue agency to audit charities that have become quite vocal in their opposition to the policies of this government.
All of this comes after years of muzzling federal scientists and other deep cuts to Environment Canada.
Perhaps worst of all is how these sweeping changes to environmental law are being introduced to Canadians. Instead of an open debate in parliament where the pros and cons of these changes can be looked at and discussed, all of these changes are being included in the larger budget implementation bill where little debate is possible. Indeed opposition leaders have asked the government to separate out the environmental portions of the implementation bill so that they be judged on their own merits, but so far the Conservative government has refused.
This is the state of affairs regarding the environment here in Canada; we aren’t the environmental leaders we once were. But we can still speak out as outraged citizens and be heard.