This week, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver lashed out at environmentalists opposing the Northern Gateway pipeline as “billionaire socialists from the United States who are trying to undermine the Canadian economy.” In an open letter, he wrote that “environmental and other radical groups” are trying “to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.”
Mr. Oliver’s tirade is just the latest in a series of moves intended to squelch opposition to the Conservative government’s determination to ignore environmental concerns if they slow its economic agenda. In a democracy, power rests in the hands of the people. An informed electorate will examine, question and challenge. The Harper government paints those who take that responsibility seriously as a lunatic fringe of “left-wing ideologues.”
Environmentalists and Radical Groups on the Chopping Block
The Harper government is using its majority to stifle opposition from an informed electorate. By limiting debate, threatening funding cuts and reducing staff that produce reports independent of corporate influence, they clear the path for their pro-industry agenda.
Environmental artist Franke James discovered the consequences of objecting to government policies when her international tour had to be canceled because of the Canadian government’s pressure on her sponsors. Apparently the Harper government was sensitive about her questioning Canada’s environmental record. In Dear Prime Minister she had posed questions a lot of Canadians are asking, such as, “Why are you making us choose between the economy and the environment?”
The Canadian Environmental Network also experienced the government’s intolerance of “environmentalists and radical groups.” Last fall Environment Canada pulled more than a half million dollars in funding from the 34-year-old national organization that has been instrumental in drafting significant environmental legislation. They were notified in May 2011 that they could expect funding to be renewed. In October 2011 funding was denied, and Canadians lost the networking link between 640 small environmental groups and the federal government.
More Cuts on the Horizon
A CBC report indicates:
Sources say the government isn’t just talking…but will be targeting environmental groups when the House finance committee reviews charitable funding next month.
The committee could recommend changing the rules to stop them from getting U.S. money.
A discussion in the finance committee would put environmental groups on notice that the government intends to curb their influence and their activities. In addition, if charitable status were denied to groups whose activities were deemed to be lobbying, funding for all environmental watchdogs would be at risk.
The government is also moving ahead on the plan it announced last fall, to slash Environment Canada’s workforce by 776 people. Sixty scientists and researchers at Environment Canada are receiving pink slips declaring their jobs surplus. More cuts are looming, and the department is facing deep budget reductions in the next fiscal year. Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, told CBC:
While the government pays lip service to protecting the interests of all Canadians, it continues to target science-based departments, the front line, when it comes to protecting our environment and health of our citizens.
Canada’s Fossil Award Ensured
It appears instead of being embarrassed to be named Fossil of the Year for the 5th year in a row, Canada intends to ensure the next UN climate change conference will once again bestow the award.
As David Olive wrote in the Toronto Star:
Our prime minister trembles with unseemly rage that the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio may voice an objection to projects that will have a multi-generational, and irrevocable, impact on nature and social conditions in hundreds of communities across North America.
For the Harper government, economic gain trumps concern for the future of the planet. Although 60% of Canadians who voted in the last election chose other parties, the Harper government is using its majority to try to crush opponents and ram through its vision for the country. They have become the bully on the block, ignoring or undermining anyone who dares stand up to them. The environment is not even in second place on their list of priorities.
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Photo 1 from Thinkstock; Photo 2 from Dogwood Initiative via Flickr Creative Commons