Saturday, May 19, 2012

From '"O' Canada" to "Oh My God, Canada!"

It hasn't been a good week for Canada, its reputation or its environment.

Here's Ellen Rainwalker on the current budget bill (C-38) and its implications:
Unlike previous budget bills, which were on average 30 pages long and covered only money matters, this massive 425-page document contains 0ver 700 clauses and is full of technical language. It includes items that would eliminate or drastically change over 70 Canadian laws and regulations. It is an "omnibus" bill, meaning that the government intends to pass it in its entirety. They are refusing to break it up so that its different parts can be discussed and considered by separate committees.

Deceptively-named the "Jobs, Growth and LongTerm Prosperity Act", Bill C-38 was introduced as a budget bill on April 26 and it immediately passed first reading. It passed second reading on May 14 and was referred to the Finance Committee, even though all Members of Parliament in the four opposition parties voted against it. The government wants to have it passed into law by midJune. This is an incredibly short period of time for there to be proper discussion and debate. And it's ludicrous that the only Parliamentary committee to scrutinize this Bill is the Finance Committee, since a great many of its clauses have nothing to do with finance, but have a great deal to do with gutting environmental and labour protections.

Bill C-38 would completely repeal the Fair Wages and Hours Labour Act, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy Act, the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

It would alter core provisions of the Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, National Energy Board Act, Species at Risk Act, Parks Canada Agency Act, Canadian Oil and Gas Operations Act, Canada Seeds Act, and the Nuclear Safety Control Act.

Major alterations would be made to many other acts and regulations for which Canadians of all political persuasions fought long and hard, including Old Age Security and Unemployment Insurance.
Elizabeth May weighs in with a litany of the specific changes to environmental laws:
Here's what is in C-38 on the environment. (C-38 threatens more than environmental damage, but this should give you a sense of why I am determined to stop this bill.)

Canadian Environmental Assessment Act ditched. Repealed and replaced with a completely new act. "Environmental effects" under the new CEAA will be limited to effects on fish, aquatic species under the Species at Risk Act, migratory birds. A broader view of impacts is limited to federal lands, Aboriginal peoples, and changes to the environment "directly linked or necessarily incidental" to federal approval. 

Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency seriously weakened. The agency will have 45 days after receiving an application to decide if an assessment is required. Environmental assessments are no longer required for projects involving federal money. The minister is given wide discretion to decide. New "substitution" rules allow Ottawa to download EAs to the provinces; "comprehensive" studies are eliminated. Cabinet will be able to over-rule decisions. A retroactive section sets the clock at July 2010 for existing projects.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act undercut. The present one-year limit to permits for disposing waste at sea can now be renewed four times. The three and five-year time limits protecting species at risk from industrial harm will now be open-ended.

Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act killed. This legislation, which required government accountability and results reporting on climate change policies, is being repealed.

Fisheries Act seriously weakened. Fish habitat provisions will be changed to protect only fish of "commercial, Aboriginal, and recreational" value and even those habitat protections are weakened. The new provisions create an incentive to drain a lake and kill all the fish, if not in a fishery, in order to fill a dry hole with mining tailings.

Navigable Waters Protection Act hampered. Pipelines and power lines will be exempt from the provisions of this act. Also, the National Energy Board absorbs the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) whenever a pipeline crosses navigable waters. The NWPA is amended to say a pipeline is not a "work" within that act.

Energy Board Act neutered. National Energy Board reviews will be limited to two years -- and then its decisions can be reversed by the cabinet, including the present Northern Gateway Pipeline review.

Species at Risk Act hamstrung. This is being amended to exempt the National Energy Board from having to impose conditions to protect critical habitat on projects it approves. Also, companies won't have to renew permits on projects threatening critical habitat.

Parks Canada Agency Act trimmed, staff cut. Reporting requirements are being reduced, including the annual report. Six hundred and thirty eight of the nearly 3,000 Parks Canada workers will be cut. Environmental monitoring and ecological restoration in the Gulf Islands National Park are being cut.

Canadian Oil and Gas Operations Act made more industry friendly. This will be changed to exempt pipelines from the Navigational Waters Act.

Coasting Trade Act made more offshore drilling friendly. This will be changed to promote seismic testing allowing increased off-shore drilling.

Nuclear Safety Control Act undermined. Environmental assessments will be moved to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which is a licensing body not an assessing body -- so there is a built-in conflict.

Canada Seeds Act inspections privatized. This is being revamped so the job of inspecting seed crops is transferred from Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors to "authorized service providers," the private sector.

Agriculture affected. Under the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act, publicly-owned grasslands have acted as community pastures under federal management, leasing grazing rights to farmers so they could devote their good land to crops, not livestock. This will end. Also, the Centre for Plant Health in Sidney, B.C., an important site for quarantine and virus-testing on plant stock strategically located across the Salish Sea to protect B.C.'s primary agricultural regions, will be moved to the heart of B.C.'s fruit and wine industries.

National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy killed. The NRTEE brought industry leaders, environmentalists, First Nations, labour, and policy makers together to provide non-partisan research and advice on federal policies. Its demise will leave a policy vacuum in relation to Canada's economic development.

More attacks on environmental groups funded. The charities sections now preclude gifts which may result in political activity. The $8 million new money to harass charities is unjustified.

Water programs cut. Environment Canada is cutting several water-related programs and others will be cut severely, including some aimed at promoting or monitoring water-use efficiency.  

Wastewater survey cut. The Municipal Water and Wastewater Survey, the only national study of water consumption habits, is being cut after being in place since 1983. 

Monitoring effluent cut. Environment Canada's Environmental Effects Monitoring Program, a systematic method for measuring the quality of effluent discharge, including from mines and pulp mills, will be cut by 20 per cent. 

 Meanwhile, Andrew Coyne decries the implications of such omnibus bills for Canadian democracy:
My point is not that any of the bill’s provisions are good or bad in themselves (that’s the kind of thing committee hearings and debate often help to clarify). Nor is there anything unlawful in any of this, so far as I’m aware. ... But there’s a limit. What is lawful may nevertheless be illegitimate, especially where fundamental issues of Parliamentary government are in play. For, in combination with so many recent abuses, from prorogation to the F-35s, that is what is at stake here.
...
(T)he increasing use of these omnibills extends Parliament’s powerlessness in all directions: it has become, if you will, omnimpotent — a ceremonial body, little more. What is worse, it cannot even seem to rouse itself to its own defence.

Once upon a time such insults could be relied upon to produce unruly scenes in the House, obstruction of government business and whatnot. The packaging of several pieces of legislation into one omnibus energy bill in 1982 provoked the opposition to refuse to enter the House to vote. The division bells rang for nearly three weeks until the government agreed to split the bill. The insertion of a single change to environmental legislation in the 2005 budget bill, a note from the Green Party reminds us, so enraged the then leader of the Opposition, Stephen Harper, that he threatened to bring down the government.

But today’s Parliament is so accustomed to these indignities that it barely registers. It has lost not only the power to resist, it seems, but the will.
And, James Hansen's NYTimes editorial suggests Canada's actions pose a threat to global civilization:
GLOBAL warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.” If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.

Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk. 
There are some weeks when your country would be better off just staying in bed.

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