What Is Harper Afraid Of? Asks Franke James

When it comes to criticism of their environmental record, Canada’s federal Conservatives have a standard operating procedure: silence it. So when visual essayist and activist Franke James was invited to Croatia, they quietly torpedoed the trip.

If anyone is surprised that a democratic country would censor one of its artists, take a look at Annie Urban’s post from last April: “Canadian Conservatives Ignore, Censor, Bully and Threaten Critics”. In January 2012, I wrote about the“Harper Government’s War on Environmentalists” after Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver wrote in an open letter that “environmental and other radical groups” were trying “to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.”

That kind of petty sniping by a cabinet minister is common in the right-leaning world of the Conservatives. So the Harper government will likely wish Franke James were an organization or employee they could muzzle when they read her newest essay: “What is Harper Afraid Of?”

Digging Beneath the Fear

A lot of Canadians are also wondering what their Prime Minister is afraid of. After all, differences of opinion are essential to the kind of vigorous investigation of various perspectives that makes democracy a challenging ideal.

So Franke James sets out to investigate what is behind the fear. She asks Stephen Harper if he is afraid of “Rivers that turn black and run into the sea? Birds falling from the sky? People fleeing a toxic land?”

Then she turns her attention on Joe Oliver. Instead of just speculating, she and her husband take the democratic approach of actually interviewing the Natural Resources Minister. James asks him the same question asks herself on a regular basis: “What bothers your green conscience?”

His answer is a longer version of “not much.”

Stifling Opposition and Calling It Science

Oliver slides around the question by saying, “I am influenced by what objective scientists say, and you know government policy has to be grounded in facts.”That will be news to the scientists the Harper government is muzzling and to the environmental groups Joe Oliver brands as radicals and ideologues.

James does have to agree when he says: “My impact as the Minister of Natural Resources is much bigger than as an individual.” She points out his impact is so big he is making changes like these:

  • Gutting the Fisheries Act
  • Trashing the Environmental Assessment Act
  • Barring environmental groups from hearings
  • Barring Canadian citizens from hearings (unless they live or work in the area)

She lists more of the minister’s impacts, but what Oliver has in mind is likely none of those and also not an answer to another question she poses: whether he would let his family eat fish from the Athabasca River.

Natural Resources Minister Denies Knowledge of Tar Sands Pollution

The minister does not tell James if he would eat the fish. In fact, he pleads ignorance of whether or not the river has been polluted. When she asks him about a “secret” Environment Canada report on oil sands pollution in the Athabasca, he passes it off as before his time, not from his ministry and, well, secret.

Excuse me while I sputter. James obtained the report after a Freedom of Information request, but the federal Minister of Natural Resources is not familiar with a damning presentation that contains such red flags as:

  • Elevated levels of pollutants near mining sites
  • Concerns about effects on the health of wildlife and downstream communities
  • Damage to fish habitat because of excessive water withdrawals
  • 242% increase in greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2008
  • Pressure on vulnerable species

Those are just a few of the main points from what appears to be a PowerPoint presentation. The full report would be considerably more damning.

James asks:

Shouldn’t the Federal Minister in charge of the oil sands be held accountable for oil sands mining that is polluting our air, land and water? Does this mean that poisoning downstream communities and wildlife, is just the ‘cost of doing business’ in Canada? Why is the government looking the other way? Is this ‘environmental racism’ as the First Nations contend?

The Time to Act Is Today

This new visual essay is particularly timely, given the Conservative steamroller that is quashing questions about the mammoth and offensive Bill C-38. More than a budget bill, Bill C-38 is a redesign of Canadian culture and values, a fair number of them environmental.

Among the draconian measures scattered through its 420 pages, Andrew Coyne points out:

The environmental chapters are the most extraordinary. Along with the new Act, they give cabinet broader power to override decisions of the National Energy Board, shorten the list of protected species, and abolish the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act among “other measures.”

With that kind of anti-environmental bludgeon packed into a “budget bill,” only swift and vocal action on the part of an informed citizenry has any hope of slowing the Conservative steamroller.

That is exactly what Franke James is calling for. She has made it easy. At the end of the visual essay, she provides an interactive e-mail letter. Enter a postal code, and the name of your area’s member of parliament appears, along with cc’s to Prime Minister Harper and other party leaders. She even provides a sample letter that can be sent as is or personalized.

On Monday, June 4th, thousands of Web sites across Canada will go dark or display banners in solidarity against Bill C-38. Before the Black Out Speak Out day begins, make your voice heard.

Sign the petition below, read “What Is Harper Afraid Of?” and send a letter to your MP to register your opposition to the destruction of the Canadian environment.

Related Care2 Stories

Shutting Down Rights and Democracy in Canada

Harper Government’s War on Environmentalists

Banned Artist Raises Questions About Freedom & Climate Change

Harper Government Attacking Canadian Values, Liberals Warn

Blacklisted Canadian Artist Becoming Mosquito in Government’s Ears

Harper Government Trying to Silence Canadian Artist

Canadian Conservatives Ignore, Censor, Bully and Threaten Critics

All graphics courtesy of Franke James


Michael Burchak
Michael Burchak5 years ago

As a majority government, are the Canadian Conservatives to silence debate?

leaning no
leaning yes

This question is so poorly worded that I don't know how to answer it. Are you asking whether the Harper government is in fact silencing debate (in which case my answer is "Yes") or are you asking whether the Harper government is justified in silencing debate because it has a majority (in which case my answer is "No").

Stephen Brian
Stephen Brian5 years ago

Hi Sue,

In case that wasn't clear, I meant the seals (and polar bears if that becomes necessary). Of course, I suppose Canada could just assert sovereignty over currently international waters and arrest foreign fishermen who over-fish. Then again, if I recall correctly, Canadian procedure is to order a ship to surrender, give warning, fire a warning shot, give warning again, and then fire upon it to disable. Three guesses what happens to civilian vessels not designed to sustain battle-damage when navies shoot at their engines, and what happens to fishermen aboard as their ships sink in freezing water. I still don't care how ugly things look, but something tells me others on this site would complain more about that alternative, even if it went only as far as warning shots.

Sue Griffiths
SUE Griffiths5 years ago

So Stephen B
''doesn't care how ugly something looks. Letting the fish- stocks become depleted by over fishing, without culling predators would do a lot more harm to the whole arctic ecosystem than does clubbing seals''.
Well if by predators he means the idiots with the hooked iron bars, or the even bigger idiots in Harper's party, and the biggest idiot of all Harper, then I totally agree with him.

Sue Griffiths
SUE Griffiths5 years ago

I've never been to Canada. I've read a bit about it, but one thing I'm sure of. Harper is no good for Canada, in fact he's downright bad for Canada, unless you are right wing, have plenty of money thank you very much, not an animal or the environment.

Stephen Brian
Stephen Brian5 years ago

Hi Ken,

Looking at the data and the metadata, there is little reason to believe that global warming would lead to reaping the whirlwind.

Hi Michael,

Aesthetics have absolutely nothing to do with ethics. I don't care how ugly something looks. Letting those fish-stocks get depleted by overfishing without culling predators would do a lot more harm to the whole arctic ecosystem than does clubbing seals. I used "cull" because there is a benefit.

"Shoot the messenger"? When did the Conservatives fire all the scientists? I must have missed something. The problem isn't them speaking about science. It's them abusing their positions as "experts" to play politics using the credibility of the Canadian government. The second the discourse went from theory of the natural sciences to policy-prescription, the scientists went too far. Like I told Ken, the science is far from sound. This is not a war on science. It is a government playing politics. Oh noes.

Yes, Goodyear de-funded the Genome Project ... except that apparently it's still going years later. Apparently the funding was reorganized such that there was no specific line for the project, but it kept going. This won't make sense to many on Care2, but conservatives often keep their personal beliefs out of their policy-decisions. I don't care what Goodyear believes.

stella bleu
stella bleu5 years ago

He's a dicktator and we've got to boot him out - now!

Nicole McIntyre
Nicole McIntyre5 years ago

We gotta get rid of this asshole !!!

Alan M.
Alan M.5 years ago

Harper’s censorship of artists and auditing of environmental charities is downright Nixonian.

Michael O.
Michael O5 years ago

...Science shines a light on the world around us. We are all the better for those scientists who have come before us, enriching our lives with technological advances, treatments for diseases, and a greater understanding of the natural world in which we live. The Harper Government's attempts to stifle the diffusion of scientific inquiry are no different than the Catholic Church's misguided persecution of Galileo hundreds of years ago.

Those who wallow in willful ignorance will eventually pay the price for their short-sighted stupidity. Harper is no different.

Michael O.
Michael O5 years ago

The Harper Government is doing much more than having scientists adhere to the party line. They are being muzzled, plain and simple. Haper's policy is as follows: "Don't like the message - shoot the messenger." And he does so with gleeful abandon.

What we have here in Canada is a war on science. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Harper was trained as an economist and harbours feelings of inadequacy from not studying a "real" science such as physics, chemistry, or biology. He seems much more content dealing with the "realities" of market forces, rather than dealing with the sound scientific evidence of what we are doing to our environment.

He finds it much more comfortable to rely on his narrow-minded, neo-conservative ideology to guide him in forming government policy. After all, why else would he be toughening up the criminal code and building new prisons when statistics show that the crime rate in Canada is dropping?

Who is in right mind mind would appoint a Minister of Science and Technology (hello Gary Goodyear) who doesn't believe in, much less understand the theory of evolution? That's right - the minister in charge of doling out money to do fundamental medical research, doesn't understand the fundamental concept underlying all of the biological sciences. How much contempt for science do you have to have to do such a thing?

Science shines a light on the world around us. We are all the better for those scientists who have come before us, enrich