Harper Government

Mon, 2013-01-21 08:54Carol Linnitt
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Retreat from Science: Interview with Federal Scientist Peter Ross Part 2 of 2

On April 1, 2013 Canada will lose its sole marine contaminants research program. The loss comes as a part of a massive dismantling of science programs at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced in May of 2012. 

Peter Ross, lead researcher at Vancouver Island’s Institute for Ocean Sciences, is a recent casualty of the sweeping science cuts moving across the country.
 
In this second installment of DeSmog Canada’s interview with Ross, he discusses the importance of the scientific method as a bulwark against bias in policy-making, the danger of industrial pollutants in marine habitats, and what killer whales can tell us about our society.
Fri, 2013-01-18 07:00Carol Linnitt
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Retreat from Science: Interview with Federal Scientist Peter Ross Part 1 of 2

When the Harper government announced deep funding cuts to science programs across the country, the Institute of Ocean Sciences, one of Canada's largest marine institutes located in Sidney, B.C., was among those research outfits hurt as a result. Lead research scientist Peter Ross is one of more than one thousand Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) employees who discovered their position had been terminated.

Thu, 2013-01-17 11:46Jim Hoggan
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Cleaning Up Canada’s Polluted Public Square

The most urgent environmental threat to Canadians isn’t climate change, the declining health of our oceans, or the extinction of species. It’s the pollution filling our nation’s public square.

The public square – the forum for free debate that we depend on in a democracy – is being choked by misinformation, denial and bitter adversarial rhetoric. It is causing the Canadian public to turn away in despair, creating an epidemic of mistrust and what’s worse, disinterest.

Instead of open and healthy debate, dysfunctional public conversations have become the norm, preventing us from confronting the reality of our destructive impact on the planet. We seem unable or unwilling to weigh facts honestly, disagree constructively and deliberate collectively.

Fri, 2012-12-07 17:21Carol Linnitt
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Harper Government Approves Foreign Acquisition of Nexen, Progress Energy, Affirms FIPA Concerns

Today Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the approval of two major acquisitions of Canadian energy companies by foreign state-owned enterprises. The Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) will commence the $15.1 billion takeover of Nexen Inc., a Canadian company with major holdings in the Alberta tar sands. Malaysia's Petronas will proceed with the purchase of Progress Energy Resources Corp., a Calgary company with considerable shale gas plays in British Columbia, for $5.2 billion. Petronas has plans to construct an $11 billion liquified natural gas plant in Prince Rupert to prepare gas exports for Asia. 

Prime Minister Harper announced the takeovers, which are steeped in controversy, in tandem with new takeover guidelines intended to address growing concerns of foreign ownership of Canada's resources by energy-hungry nations. He remained silent on the significance of the approval for FIPA, the Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement, also known as the China-Canada Investment Treaty.
 
“Canadians generally and investors specifically should understand that these decisions are not the beginning of a trend but rather the end of a trend,” said Mr. Harper. The full meaning of that statement, however, remains to be seen. The Harper government's decision to ratify FIPA may mean deals done with China, like today's deal with CNOOC, will carry a new significance.
 
The government previously raised the threshold for official review of foreign takeovers from $330 million to $1 billion, signaling open arms to potential foreign investors with an eye on mega projects like the Alberta tar sands. However, today that threshold was returned to $330 million for state-owned enterprises.
 
“To be blunt, Canadians have not spent years reducing ownership of sectors of the economy by our own governments only to see them bought and controlled by foreign governments instead,” Mr. Harper said
Tue, 2012-12-04 17:46Carol Linnitt
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"Big Oil's Oily Grasp": Polaris Institute Documents Harper Government Entanglement with Tar Sands Lobby

Oil industry lobbyists in Canada have taken the country by the reins. At least, that's the implication of the Polaris Institute's new report released today. The report, “Big Oil's Oily Grasp - The Making of Canada as a Petro-State and How Oil Money is Corrupting Canadian Politics,” (pdf) documents 2,733 meetings held between the oil industry and federal government officials since 2008. That figure outstrips meetings with environmental organizations by a whopping 463 percent. 

“Canada's increasing dependence on the export of bitumen to the United States has, in effect, served to redefine this nation in the form of a petro-state,” the report opens. Lobbying activities in Ottawa may help explain why “the Canadian government has increasingly watered down or withdrawn its role and responsibilities to regulate the economic, environmental and social impacts of the tar sands industry.”
 
The report highlights the spike in lobbying activities - of six major Big Oil players including Enbridge and TransCanada - in the period between September 2011 and September 2012, right when the industry-friendly omnibus budget Bill C-38 made its infamous debut. In that same period of time, the federal government met once with Greenpeace. 
 
Since 2008, oil and gas industry groups held meetings with officials 367 percent more than the two major automotive associations in Canada, and 78 percent more than the top two mining associations. 
 
“The amount of face time the oil industry gets in Ottawa in personal meetings and other correspondence greatly exceeds the time afforded other major industries in Canada,” says the report's co-author Daniel Cayley-Daoust. “No one doubts the hold the oil industry has on this current government, but it is important Canadians are aware that such a high rater of lobbying to federal ministers has strong policy implications.”
 
Thu, 2012-11-22 05:00Carol Linnitt
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Dr. David Schindler: Tar Sands Science "Shoddy," "Must Change"

If you ask an Environment Canada media spokesperson about contamination resulting from tar sands operations, they will not tell you the federal government has failed to adequately monitor the mega-project's effects on water.

They most certainly will not say outright that the federal government has failed to monitor the long term or cumulative environmental effects of the world's largest industrial project. They won't say it, but not because it isn't the case. 

The tar sands are contaminating hundreds of kilometres of land in northern Alberta with cancer-causing contaminants and neurotoxins.

And although federal scientists have confirmed this, they are prevented from sharing information about their research with the media. 

In fact, if a journalist wants to approach a public servant scientist these days, he or she is required to follow the federal ministry's media relations protocol, one which strictly limits the media's access to scientists, sees scientists media trained by communications professionals who coach them on their answers, determine beforehand which questions can be asked or answered, and monitor the interaction to ensure federal employees stay within the preordained parameters.

The result is an overly-monitored process that causes burdensome delays in media-scientist interactions. The overwhelming consequence is that the media has stopped talking to the country's national scientists.
 
But University of Alberta scientist Dr. David Schindler is ready and willing to pick up the slack, especially after Environment Canada federal scientists recently presented findings that vindicated years of Schindler's contentious research exposing the negative effects of tar sands production on local waterways and aquatic species.
 
According to Schindler, the rapid expansion of the tar sands is not based on valid science: “Both background studies and environmental impact assessments have been shoddy, and could not really even be called science. This must change,” he told DeSmog.
Wed, 2012-11-14 21:04Carol Linnitt
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Toxic Tar Sands: Scientists Document Spread of Pollution, Water Contamination, Effects on Fish

Today federal scientists from Environment Canada presented research at an international toxicology conference in the U.S. that indicates contaminants from the Alberta tar sands are polluting the landscape on a scale much larger than previously thought.

A team lead by federal scientist Jane Kirk discovered contaminants in lakes as far as 100 kilometers away from tar sands operations. The federal research confirms and expands upon the hotly contested findings of aquatic scientist David Schindler who, in 2010, found pollution from the tar sands accumulating on the landscape up to 50 kilometers away.

“That means the footprint is four times bigger than we found,” Schindler told Postmedia News.

Senior scientist Derek Muir, who presented some of the findings at Wednesday's conference, said the contaminated region is “potentially larger than we might have anticipated.” The 'legacy' of chemicals in lake sediment gives evidence that tar sands pollution has been traveling long distances for decades. Samples show the build up of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, known to cause cancer in humans and to be toxic to aquatic animals, in 6 remote and undisturbed lakes up to 100 kilometers away from tar sands operations.

The pollutants are “petrogenic” in nature, meaning they are petroleum derived, and have steadily and dramatically increased since the 1970s, showing the contaminant levels “seem to parallel the development of the oilsands industry,” Muir said.

Fri, 2012-11-09 09:01Carol Linnitt
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Heavy is the Head That Wears the Crown: Tar Sands Expansion May Violate Crown's Legal Obligation to First Nations

Today the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) will argue in the Alberta Court of Appeal that Shell Canada’s proposed Jackpine Mine expansion is in violation of their Constitutional rights and represents a failure on behalf of the federal government to uphold their legal duty to consult (DTC). The First Nation, which originally made this argument in a joint federal/provincial hearing on October 1, was told the panel did not have jurisdiction to hear constitutional questions.

When the ACFN applied for an adjournment, in that case, their request was denied. In response the First Nation is claiming they have “no other option but to file legal arguments for the protection of their constitutionally protected rights through the Alberta Court of Appeal.” 
 
The government’s refusal to consider the ACFN’s best defense against the megaproject, which will increase Shell’s tar sands bitumen mining capacity in this one project alone by 100,000 barrels per day, appears out of step with the federal government’s own admission that they must accommodate the rights of First Nations when considering industrial projects that entail irreversible impacts.
 
First Nations rights, especially as defined in the 1982 Constitution and subsequent court decisions, must be accommodated, according to an internal federal discussion paper, released to Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy campaigner Keith Stewart through access to information legislation.
Fri, 2012-11-02 15:45Carol Linnitt
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Defend Our Coast Rallies Demonstrate Diversity of Public Opposition to Tar Sands Export and FIPA

Standing within the throng of demonstrators at last month's Defend Our Coast rally it became clear to me that a palpable shift in the collective expectations of Canadians had taken place. 

It is evident we expect positive action on climate change; we expect steps to be taken towards clean energy alternatives; we expect those alternatives to be made available to us, not by corporations, but by the individuals we've selected as our leaders; we expect those leaders to respect the rights of First Nations; we expect limits to be placed on the corporate exercise of power; and we expect abuses of that power to be met with swift and strict accountability.
 
Such expectations, however, appear increasingly out of step with our current political and economic regime, showing just how backwards Canada's bitumen bottom line obsession has become.
 
Under the current Harper government, scientists have been intimidated and silenced, production of oil and gas has accelerated at an unprecedented and unhealthy rate, massive budget cuts have gutted environmental legislation which would slow the pace and scale of bitumen production and its export, and those voices calling for balance, for sobriety, in the way we manage our resources have been blacklisted as foreign-funded radicals trying to “hijack” Canada.
 
Adding to the fury, the Harper government is now trying to undemocratically strong-arm a powerful international trade deal called FIPA through the House of Commons even though it's been called unconstitutional and a threat to Canadian sovereignty.
 
But if anything, the growing and diverse chorus of public opposition - as seen at the Defend Our Coast rallies - demonstrates just how bold the Canadian populace is prepared to be in the midst of an increasingly hostile battle to preserve our rights and democracy. 
Wed, 2012-10-31 15:52Carol Linnitt
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Rush to Ratify: FIPA May Violate Constitutional Protection of First Nations Rights

The Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) may be ratified as soon as tomorrow, November 1. This despite a massive demonstration of Canadian opposition to the investment trade deal that will lock the federal government into a dangerously undemocratic agreement with China and Chinese investors for 31 years

The proposed agreement, signed by Stephen Harper in Russia on September 9 and kept secret until September 26, is being strong-armed through the house of commons after the required 21-day session in Parliament. Political action and environmental groups, opposition party leaders and experts in the field of international trade law are urging the Harper government to reconsider the agreement's immediate ratification, demanding an open parliamentary debate before the trade deal's future is decided.
 
So far all requests to throw out the deal, host a national debate, investigate the deal in emergency Parliamentary discussions, or indefinitely delay the deal's ratification, have gone unheeded by the Harper government.
 
Under FIPA the federal government is obliged to protect investor rights and profits, even to compensate for lost profits. That means when it comes to disputes involving Chinese investors, like the one over the future of Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline, the Canadian government will have a duty to protect investor profits and not necessarily the jurisdictional rights of the British Columbian government, people or First Nations. 

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